Chelsea may not have cracked how to beat Arsenal yet, but they are mastering the knack of travelling to the North-west, playing indifferently and coming away with three points. Two weeks ago Manchester City were left wondering at the injustice of it all, yesterday it was Bolton Wanderers.
In terms of opportunities Sam Allardyce's team were superior, but he has spent much of the season berating his players for not taking their chances and yesterday the point was underlined. Chelsea were poor, particularly in the first half, yet they struck where the home side dithered, John Terry and Damien Duff securing a valuable win. Chelsea can see the top of the Premiership and hope; for Bolton there is the danger of the season finishing in a giant anti-climax after losing the Carling Cup final.
"We are paid to win football matches not entertain and lose," Allardyce said. "It's causing concern that we never look like keeping a clean sheet in the Premiership. Goals have always been difficult for us to come by because we haven't got the money to spend like Chelsea so we have to make sure that when we get a goal it's going to get us a result. At the moment we are conceding an average of two goals a game."
With two points from five games Bolton's fear is that they may get dragged into the relegation mire, which is an unfortunate prospect for a team who began like championship contenders yesterday. Someone from outer space would have had few problems picking the team that cost millions in the first half, except he would have plumped for the home team who rained in 10 shots on the Chelsea goal and wholly dominated the proceedings.
It was not subtle, mainly the long ball to Kevin Davies, but Chelsea barely won a header. Terry, normally as moveable as granite, was hesitant although he looked the epitome of steadiness compared to Marcel Desailly and William Gallas, who had wretched first halves. What the watching Nat Lofthouse would have done to them does not bear thinking about.
"Every long ball was dangerous to us," Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea manager, conceded and this aerial dominance meant the play focused in and around the Chelsea penalty area. Jay-Jay Okocha was the principal beneficiary, forcing Marco Ambrosia to fly across his goal with a sequence of volleys. One he saved excellently at the base of his right, while another bounced off his chest and away for a corner.
Okocha provided the thrills but it was Henrik Pedersen who came closest to scoring after 11 minutes. Davies and Stelios Giannakopoulos each won a header and you would have put a lot of Roman Abramovich's money on his scoring. Instead he hit the inside of the post. Add a penalty claim when Desailly bundled over Davies at a corner - "The referee bottled it," was Sam Allardyce's withering comment - and Bolton had every reason to feel aggrieved, an emotion that would heighten in the second half as Chelsea completed their smash and grab raid.
Frank Lampard heralded their improvement after 50 minutes with a ferocious 30-yard shot that Jussi Jaaskelainen did well to turn away, but it was when Joe Cole came on 15 minutes later for the clearly disgruntled Herrnan Crespo that the match turned. Chelsea changed to match Bolton's 4-1-4-1 formation and, at a stroke, Okocha and Ivan Campo's compelling influence came to an end.
True to Chelsea's day, their first goal, on 71 minutes, came from potential mishap as Terry and Desailly got tangled in midfield after playing a point of head tennis. Terry then sprinted to meet Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's flick-on of Duff's cross. His finish, a crisp volley, would have done justice to any striker.
If that Chelsea goal had stemmed from a potential cock-up there was nothing wrong with the second three minutes later. Cole spread the ball to the right and Hasselbaink, crossed impeccably for Duff to meet the ball near the penalty spot. Jaaskelainen's attempted save merely diverted the ball into the net.
Cole, full of life and invention, almost got a third in the closing minutes but after beating a defender and Jaaskelainen with a mazy run, his shot was cleared off the line by Simon Charlton. Not that Cole was too concerned. The last time he had been at this ground as West Ham United's captain he had fallen foul with the authorities after he had become involved in a brawl in the tunnel. It is unlikely the Football Association will be investigating his part in this piece of football theft.
Bolton Wanderers 0 Chelsea 2
Terry 71, Duff 74
Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 26,717
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