If this venue has occasionally been a graveyard for Arsenal over recent years, Chelsea have always looked forward to the ride up the M61 and enjoyed the trip home all the more. Yesterday, they took all three points with them for the sixth successive season, without having conceded a single goal in that time. It was an 11th successive away victory, beating Bill Nicholson's Tottenham double team of 1960-1, and the only disappointment after a comfortable win was reaching the dressing-room to discover that Liverpool had also won, maintaining their one-point lead at the top of the table.
Stumbling at home recently against Newcastle and Arsenal had caused Chelsea to slip behind, but on their travels they have been unbeatable for almost a year. John Terry kept Bolton comfortably at bay with a typically solid display, the midfield dominated possession and there were goals in the first quarter of the game from Nicolas Anelka, against the club he left in January, and Deco with a superb volley. Anelka may have achieved little or nothing for Chelsea before the end of last season but he is a new man now with 15 goals to prove it.
"Our lads were well up for a scrap and once we combated that our football will come through," said their assistant manager Ray Wilkins. "At home, opponents have worked out a plan against us. But it was a fantastic performance." Now for Cluj in a decisive Champions' League game on Tuesday, when they must make home advantage count.
For Bolton it was back to cold reality after four wins in five November matches had propelled them from 19th place to ninth and should earn Gary Megson the Manager of the Month award. A shame it had to be Chelsea next, against whom they had not scored anywhere in seven encounters. There were only two real chances to do so all afternoon, the first arriving after only eight minutes play; but when Kevin Davies placed a free header over the bar from Gavin McCann's corner they paid a heavy price. Within two minutes Chelsea's Jose Bosingwa, an impressive presence at right-back all season, turned inside for a left-footed cross to the far post that caught Andy O'Brien watching the ballinstead of Anelka. The striker lunged forward to head in off a post.
If the visitors had needed settling down against a team in confident mood, that moment allowed it and much of the passing from then on was excellent. There was even the bonus of a second goal in the 21st minute. A fine, flowing move ran from Deco on the left to Michael Ballack in the centre, then Salomon Kalou, whose shot was beaten out by Jussi Jaaskelainen. Fatally, Bolton appeared to relax and Ballack headed the rebound down to Deco, who performed an exquisite mid-air volley to score his first goal since August and erase memories of a particularly disappointing performance against Arsenal.
Now Chelsea could keep things tighter and break out at speed, which they did to good effect. Anelka might even had added a third goal, shooting wide after Frank Lampard's free-kick was punched out to him. By the interval Petr Cech had not been required to make a save, although he once invited trouble by trying to dribble past Johan Elmander, who almost dispossessed him.
Elmander, running in to form now that he is fully fit, has been demonstrating his potential for the first time since signing from Toulouse, and had scored three times in the excellent victories at Middlesbrough and Sunderland. Instead of having Davies up alongside him, however, he was effectively on his own while Davies hugged the touchline. The intention was presumably to prevent Ashley Cole foraging forward, which worked to an extent but it was an essentially negative strategy.
Megson waited until half-timebefore changing anything, moving Davies into the middle and replacing his most defensive midfielder Fabrice Muamba with Ricardo Gardner.
With the backing of a supportive home crowd, Bolton pressed hard but should have been punished more than once on the counterattack. First two home defenders collided, allowing Kalou to send Deco clear for a chip that he played carelessly wide. Then Lampard burst into the penalty area, as is his wont, but could find no power as he met Anelka's pass. Two appeals for handball against the excellent Terry – the second might have been given – were all Bolton had to show for their pressure until the 72nd minute, when Davies nudged on a long throw and Gary Cahill's header at close range required Cech to produce his first and only save. "Against the top four you can stifle the life out of the game or try to play at a higher tempo," Megson said, "but in the first half we only had a few doing that."
Referee: Howard Webb
Man of the match: Terry
Match rating: 6/10