Chelsea's abilities overcome fallibility

Chelsea 5 Bolton Wanderers 1
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The Independent Online

Thrashing Liverpool is all very well, but Chelsea's problem has always been putting away the lesser teams. So does yesterday's result mean, that in championship terms, the Blues can now be considered the real thing? Well, not entirely. Impressively though the Blues finished off their opponents once they had them on the ropes, for much of the first half they were so poor the visitors, umambitious as they were, might have been three goals to the good and out of sight.

The Chelsea manager, Claudio Ranieri, whose dubious command of English is rapidly becoming a command of dubious English, acknowledged as much. "First 35 minutes, very shit. My God! Unbelievable! We forget everything, they play well and we watch them. Second half, we play football." And how.

First, however, Stamford Bridge had to endure the period of fallibility without which so few Chelsea performances are complete. Ricardo Gardner had already shot just too high when Bolton took the lead, John Terry allowing Keith Nolan to rise unencumbered to Per Frandsen's cross and glance a clever header beyond Carlo Cudicini.

The Italian goalkeeper looked a bundle of nerves, perhaps sensing the general doziness of his team-mates. Nolan had the ball in the net again on the quarter-hour, only to be pulled up, harshly, for handball, and when Cudicini dropped a corner on the six-yard line, he was fortunate in the extreme one of the many flailing boots did not direct it straight into his unguarded net.

With Nolan and Frandsen snapping away in midfield and Paul Warhurst breaking up such attacks as Chelsea did put together before they came close to threatening the Bolton area, the theory that the Premiership has now sussed out Sam Allardyce's team looked risible.

Perhaps it was over-confidence which caused Bolton's downfall. With half-time approaching Boudewijn Zenden's long ball down the left should have posed few problems, but Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was allowed to control, turn Mike Whitlow and lay the ball off for Eidur Gudjohnsen, playing against his former club, to drive powerfully past Jussi Jaaskelainen from 20 yards.

Even then Gardner's shot from an angle brought a fine save from Cudicini, and Bolton can hardly have believed they could go into the break behind. That they did was down to Gudjohnsen, arguably the most skilful player in the Premiership, whose control in bringing the ball down and beating Colin Hendry was wonderful to behold. So was the perfectly timed pass that freed Hasselbaink, who hammered his shot inside Jaaskelainen's near post.

Much improved though Chelsea were after the interval, they did continue to benefit from the breaks. Warhurst, unforgiveably, pulled out of a tackle with Zenden he should have won comfortably, and the Dutch winger stuck out a foot and lobbed Jaaskelainen from the edge of the area.

Allardyce belatedly switched things around, bringing on Dean Holdsworth to partner Michael Ricketts, but it was a gesture born of hope rather than expectation. Sure enough Hendry managed to knee Sam Dalla Bona's low cross into his net and, with the crowd revelling in a glorious cameo from the incomparable Gianfranco Zola, Frank Lampard drove past Jaaskelainen from 22 yards.

Allardyce looked slightly shell-shocked. "Forty-one minutes of doing our job, then four minutes of madness," he said. "In the second half individual errors crept in. I thought we were causing them problems early on. Then we made too many errors, lost our shape, lost our discipline and lost our heads. Do that in the Premiership and you will be punished.

"There was always going to be a good thrashing down the line, but we are into the second half of season and this is our first one," he added. "We have three important games coming up quickly. I hope the players are damaged enough to come roaring back against Leeds on Boxing Day."

With away games at Arsenal and Newcastle looming, Ranieri would not countenance talk of a championship challenge. "My idea is for Chelsea to finish in the top four. At the moment we play well, that's all. One defeat in 12, but we still drop too many points. Merry Christmas!"

Goals: Nolan (3) 0-1; Gudjohnsen (42) 1-1; Hasselbaink (45) 2-1; Zenden (56) 3-1; Hendry og 75 (4-1); Lampard (87) 5-1.

Chelsea (4-4-2); Cudicini 5; Melchiot 5, Terry 5, Gallas 6, Le Saux 6 (Ferrer 5, 82); Stanic 5, Lampard 5, Dalla Bona 6, Zenden 5 (Petit 6, 66); Gudjohnsen 6 (Zola, 80), Hasselbaink 7. Substitutes not used: De Goey (gk), Jokanovic.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen 5; Charlton 5, Whitlow 5, Hendry 5, N'Gotty 4; Warhurst 5 (Hansen 4, 77); Gardner 5, Nolan 6, Frandsen 5 (Farelly 4, 58), Johnson 5 (Holdsworth 5, 58); Ricketts 5. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Diawara.

Referee: U Rennie 6 (Sheffield).

Bookings: Chelsea: Terry. Bolton: Whitlow, Johnson.

Man of the match: Hasselbaink.

Attendance: 34,063.

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