Wigan Athletic's chairman, Dave Whelan, wants a salary cap to prevent Chelsea dominating English football as comprehensively as his town's team once did rugby league, but some sort of points handicap is the only thing that will stop them retaining the Premiership title this season. With two for a Chelsea win, for instance, they would be trailing only Liverpool and Manchester United at the head of the table. As things stand, the lead is 12 points and counting.
This ninth home win out of nine was one of the more mundane ones, achieved by the minimum margin while preserving a sixth successive clean sheet in all competitions. Wigan did not threaten to dirty the laundry with a single shot on target, though they held out for over an hour, resisting as doggedly as expected before accepting a fourth defeat on the bounce to follow those by Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool. With Manchester United to come at Old Trafford on Wednesday, it is a sadistically testing run.
After offering a glamorous welcome to the big league with Chelsea's visit in August (Hernan Crespo scoring the sole goal only in added time), the fixture computer was kind for a while; not that anyone expected the run of eight wins and a draw from nine games that propelled the newcomers to second place in the table. Since then the going has got tough and, tough as they are, Wigan have not been able to get going again.
The admirable Paul Jewell is not dispirited, though he was annoyed to concede a winning goal from a corner, when Lee McCulloch allowed John Terry to burst past him. "The first game of the season they beat us with a wonder goal, but this was a 'gimme' goal," he said. "We forced them to change their shape and we put in a good stint, but it's a harsh lesson." He was also upset that at one stage Chelsea declined to return the ball after it had been played into touch because of an injury. But Jose Mourinho claimed that was on his orders because the Wigan player concerned was not hurt. "We know what fair play is but we are not stupid," he said. "The player was cheating. It happened two metres in front of me. And I would do it again."
So one way and another, Wigan found getting possession off Chelsea difficult all afternoon. With one eye on another daunting fixture in midweek, and one looking back critically at the 3-0 defeat at Liverpool last weekend, Jewell made four changes to his line-up, including the demotion of Jimmy Bullard after 123 consecutive appearances and a first Premiership match in almost 10 years for Matt Jackson, once of Everton, at centre-half.
Mourinho also swapped a quartet around and made a further change at half-time after a first 45 minutes of few clear chances. Joe Cole, for once in his favoured position just behind the attack, created the first by zipping away from Stéphane Henchoz and forcing Mike Pollitt to parry at full stretch.
A desperate McCulloch held Terry by the arms, the waist and finally the legs without being punished to prevent Chelsea's captain reaching a free-kick. Then Asier del Horno took a free-kick before Wigan were organised, Leighton Baines scrambling back to clear off the line from the unmarked Crespo.
The visitors were happy enough at the interval, despite leaving Carlo Cudicini underemployed in only his second Premiership appearance of the season. He watched a 25-yard volley by Graham Kavanagh drift wide and held one cross under rarely exerted pressure. Mourinho, less pleased with the way things were going, changed tack at the start of the second half by sending on Didier Drogba in place of the injured Damien Duff to link up for once with Crespo.
Reward almost materialised within 90 seconds, Michael Essien picking out Drogba for a shot from 10 yards that struck the goalkeeper's legs. The manager still did not like the balance and next put on Eidur Gudjohnsen for Arjen Robben to play behind the front two.
That experiment lasted just long enough for Chelsea to grab a goal, whereupon Mourinho immediately pulled Crespo off for another defensive midfielder, Géremi. For all the firepower, there had been no further scoring opportunities before, in the 68th minute, Frank Lampard's corner found the thrusting head of his trusty England colleague Terry. Pollitt got both hands to the ball but could only help it on its irresistible way.Reuse content