Chelsea scrape win as Fish takes bait

Chelsea 1 Charlton Athletic 0
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The Independent Football

Charlton Athletic arrived with a sense of grievance and left with it burning more fiercely than ever. Having - in their eyes - been outmanoeuvred by Chelsea's cachet over the £10m sale of Scott Parker, they were outflanked by some cute play from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink which settled this frustratingly sloppy match.

They were the victims of two penalties. One stroked in by Hasselbaink, the other, maybe, of their own making. "Certain ingredients, if they are not there, we cannot get going," said their manager, Alan Curbishley, afterwards. He may have been talking about his side's "flatness" and the effect of injuries, but what he really meant was screaming out.

"Unless we start winning everyone is going to put it down to Scott," Curbishley added of the second successive defeat since his protégé's ill-timed departure. A sickness has hit his squad, he admitted, and he wasn't just talking about the stomach trouble which affected two other midfielders. Charlton's fans were muted. Their players more so. Even the makeshift banners denouncing Parker as a "Sell-Out" were half-hearted.

For Chelsea - and more importantly their coach Claudio Ranieri - such concerns mattered little, especially in a week in which the new chief executive, Peter Kenyon, finally arrived and immediately ratcheted up the pressure. Silverware must be delivered. The scrutiny over Ranieri's future just got even more intense although the Italian valiantly reminded everyone that his contract runs until 2007 and he intends to fulfil it.

Adrian Mutu somehow managed to miss four clear-cut chances in the final quarter which could have put a more positive gloss on the result which, nevertheless, represented Chelsea's first back-to-back League victories since November, and allowed them to keep pace at the top. The final opportunity was only stopped by an incredible one-handed, point-blank save from Dean Kiely.

Parker was one of many Chelsea players missing. He was prevented under the terms of his transfer, with Carlton Cole - on loan to Charlton from Stamford Bridge - also barred. Eight other players were absent and it was clearly the weakest line-up "new Chelsea" have fielded. Nevertheless, it still included nine full internationals and two Under-21s.

Chelsea started purposefully and Jesper Gronkjaer struck the crossbar on just three minutes. The Dane was then booked for a clear, crude dive, as Mark Fish pulled out of a challenge in the area. But the Charlton defender was himself soon caught out. As the ball fell to Hasselbaink, eight yards out, he backed into the South African. Fish, unbalanced, took the bait. He raised his hands around his opponent's chest and the striker tumbled over. The protests were fierce, but he knew he had been outwitted. Hasselbaink's penalty was calmly passed into the net for his 13th goal this season.

Charlton were unable to impose themselves. Their passing was disjointed. They were off the pace and almost fell further behind as Paul Konchesky's defensive header skimmed narrowly past a post and a shot from Glen Johnson - playing in midfield - struck the side-netting. Despite the florescence of their shirts, Charlton were anaemic. "I was embarrassed," said Curbishley.

In the second-half they came out bristling, but missed direction. Chelsea were forced back, but still created chances. They were there for the taking, but Charlton did not muster an attempt on target. Headers from Matt Holland and Jonatan Johansson drifted wide, a free-kick by Claus Jensen was flapped at. And that was it.

Last season Charlton were rolled over on a pitch described as looking like "a beach", this year they again had sand kicked in their face by the big boys. But that happened even before a ball was kicked.

Goal: Hasselbaink pen (27) 1-0.

Chelsea: (4-4-2): Sullivan 4; Melchiot 5, Huth 4, Gallas 6, Bridge 4; Johnson 5, Nicolas 6, Lampard 6, Gronkjaer 5; Hasselbaink 5 (Gudjohnsen 4, 74), Mutu 5. Substitutes not used: Ambrosio (gk), Desailly, Oliveira, Rocastle.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely 7; Kishishev 5, Fish 4, Perry 6, Hreidarsson 5; Stuart 5 (Young 5, 42), Holland 5, Jensen 6, Konchesky 4 (Bartlett 5, 75); Di Canio 4, Johansson 5. Substitutes not used: Leite (gk), Fortune, Hughes.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent) 6.

Bookings: Chelsea: Gronkjaer, Mutu.

Man of the match: Kiely.

Attendance: 41,255.