Chelsea fall away as Anelka steals in

Manchester City 1 - Chelsea 0
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The Independent Football

A day that had already brought more waves of pleasure and satisfaction to Arsenal's privileged supporters grew better still by the evening. Chelsea, left five points adrift of the Premiership leaders by the afternoon result at Highbury, remained at that distance following the tea-time kick-off at Eastlands.

A day that had already brought more waves of pleasure and satisfaction to Arsenal's privileged supporters grew better still by the evening. Chelsea, left five points adrift of the Premiership leaders by the afternoon result at Highbury, remained at that distance following the tea-time kick-off at Eastlands.

Unable to break down a Manchester City defence that excelled itself in terms of fortitude and resilience under pressure, Jose Mourinho's side surrendered their unbeaten record in a manner that suggests their coach is quite right to say the pursuit of the title is not a two-horse race. In reality, the number of realistic contestants may already be just one.

It was by a penalty that City gained the upper hand, after only 11 minutes. There was controversy, although nothing Chelsea could complain about. The awarding of the kick was the correct decision; it was the punishment meted out to Paulo Ferreira, whose foul brought down Nicolas Anelka, that was flawed. And that was to Chelsea's benefit.

The visitors' right-back was clearly the last man between Anelka and goal after Paul Bosvelt, taking advantage when William Gallas slipped on the greasy surface, had lofted a long ball for the French striker to chase. Ferreira clearly bundled Anelka to the ground, making the referee Howard Webb right to point to the spot. Yet mystifyingly, given the instruction to referees to produce red in such circumstances, Ferreira received merely a booking.

Anelka beat Petr Cech with the kick, the first opponent to score in a Chelsea away game this season. In a way, however, the visitors had escaped lightly, as Kevin Keegan could be seen pointing out, with some vigour, to the fourth official.

Chelsea were thus in the unaccustomed position of having to chase the game, something they had experienced only once previously this season. Scoring goals, it has been suggested, is an element of the game at which Mourinho's team is not yet particularly fluent. Here was an occasion that required that criticism to be answered.

But they found City unwilling to allow them free expression. What followed, for the most part, was a frenzied contest, in which Chelsea were often forced into hurried passes that usually yielded nothing, prompting much arm-waving from Mourinho, to the delight of a home crowd who took to mimicking his animation.

Eidur Gudjohnsen, whose goal won the corresponding fixture last season, was close to a fortunate equaliser when his deflection, of a Frank Lampard free-kick, wrong-footed David James, who saved with his legs. But, in the first half at least, the best moments of football came from the home side, who found another way to worry Chelsea when Steve McManaman replaced an injured Sun Jihai.

Mourinho's team, without the injured Didier Drogba and, of course, Adrian Mutu, found few ways to create clear chances, Damien Duff finding himself often occupied in trying to contain Shaun Wright-Phillips rather than go past him, and Mateja Kezman, in for Drogba, rendered largely invisible by the excellent Sylvain Distin. Also Richard Dunne, that great survivor in City's back four, deserves credit for a fine game.

Otherwise, City could thank James for keeping them in front, the deposed England No 1 responding to the threat of Lampard's shooting twice within a minute early in the second half, pushing his international team-mate's first attempt against his right-hand post, diving to his left to foil a second moments later.

Mourinho sent on Joe Cole for Tiago and then, more boldly, took off a defender, Ricardo Carvalho, in favour of Geremi, leaving only three on guard at the back. There was no breaking the home side's resolve, however. Indeed, but for a vital intervention by Wayne Bridge, who had replaced Gallas at half-time, City might have had a second goal when Wright-Phillips linked splendidly with Anelka through the middle.

At the finish, though, it was their defenders, not always regarded as the strength in Keegan's armoury, who were given the plaudits, quite rightly praised to the hilt by their manager and, to his credit, applauded by Mourinho too.

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