Chelsea 2 Birmingham City 0: Cole takes foot off gas as Blues cruise

Champions hit century of points for the calendar year as Birmingham fall without a fight
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The Independent Football

Not a bad year then. 2005 has brought Chelsea a first championship for 50 years, one League defeat in 38 games and 101 points, a total they are on course to exceed in the current season while retaining their title. Yesterday's predictable stroll against a side rooted in the Premiership's bottom three was a 13th straight home win, which equals a 95-year-old club record. Since that slip away to Manchester United in November they have won nine games and drawn one.

"Overall, fantastic," said Jose Mourinho, whose only complaint was about Joe Cole briefly reverting from thoroughbred to show pony. "I told him one more match like that, playing for himself and the public, and he's out," said a manager who might now regret having praised the same player to the skies only three days earlier. The England midfielder now has a week for reflection in any case, suspension ruling him out of the visit to his former club West Ham tomorrow.

Cole's over-elaboration, summed up by making a dreadful mess of a chance in each half, was perhaps understandable in one of the many matches that are simply too easy for his side. Hernan Crespo might have scored eight times in his 69 minutes on the pitch, redemption and a standing ovation coming his way because of the goal he tapped in midway through the first half and then his part in the second just before the interval.

Two-nil is normally the scoreline at which Chelsea declare, and although half-time is a little early for even Mourinho to shut up shop, the second period felt like the last afternoon of a cricket match in which everyone knows the result. At one stage he was to be seen enjoying a long chat on the touchline with Birmingham's luckless manager Steve Bruce, who may have been negotiating for an early close.

Bruce's main concern by that time was preventing not so much further goals as more injuries, half a dozen of which had already depleted his squad during the ridiculous programme of four matches in eight days that Mourinho called "not for human beings". If some of his players have occasionally appeared super-human in Chelsea's year of not living very dangerously, Birmingham's have looked all too mortal and Bruce is hoping "to bring in two or three this month if I possibly can".

Credit then to those who were out there yesterday as 16-1 outsiders, for the unexpected flurry of excitement and pressure they produced just before rather cruelly falling behind. In the 18th minute Stephen Clemence cleverly peeled off behind a dozing defence to meet Jermaine Pennant's flighted free-kick and beat Petr Cech, William Gallas hacking off the line at the very last moment. In the next attack Damien Johnson, set up by Emile Heskey, drove over the bar and almost immediately Heskey headed Nicky Butt's cross on to the roof of the net.

That was as good as it got. Chelsea immediately broke to the Shed end, Crespo and Cole putting Arjen Robben in for a shot that the outstanding Maik Taylor parried, Crespo following in to score. Birmingham had already lost Matthew Upson with a badly twisted ankle and his replacement Olivier Tebily was at fault when the second blow fell in the 43rd minute. Lured infield by a smooth move involving Cole, Crespo and Eidur Gudjohnsen, he left Robben utterly unattended.

In between times Crespo might have claimed the Premiership's fastest hat-trick, and later Johnson would stop John Terry's header on the line. Frank Lampard, restored as one of five changes after missing his first Premiership match in 165 last week, was quieter than usual. But it hardly mattered and long before the end the crowd would have been better off heading for the station to beat the Tube strike. Most stayed to wish their heroes a happy new year. Only Barcelona can spoil it.