Hasselbaink hat-trick comforts Claudio

Chelsea 5 Wolves 2
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The Independent Football

The upside down world of Planet Abramovich had another mad day. Goodness knows where this will all end. First there was the evidence that the England coach was on his way, then there was a curious walkabout by the man he is set to replace, Claudio Ranieri, prior to kick-off and finally there was the match itself. For much of it Chelsea deserved to lose. Against the Wolves they were supine rather than lupine. The visitors came close to achieving their first away win but instead conceded five goals for the third time in London this season. "I don't feel we've lost one point today, we've lost three," said Wolves manager Dave Jones with justification. His exasperation was compounded by Portsmouth's victory. His team are now six points adrift.

The upside down world of Planet Abramovich had another mad day. Goodness knows where this will all end. First there was the evidence that the England coach was on his way, then there was a curious walkabout by the man he is set to replace, Claudio Ranieri, prior to kick-off and finally there was the match itself. For much of it Chelsea deserved to lose. Against the Wolves they were supine rather than lupine. The visitors came close to achieving their first away win but instead conceded five goals for the third time in London this season. "I don't feel we've lost one point today, we've lost three," said Wolves manager Dave Jones with justification. His exasperation was compounded by Portsmouth's victory. His team are now six points adrift.

Indeed, in two encounters Chelsea have now knocked 10 past them - with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scoring an astonishing hat-trick inside the final 13 minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute. Why he, or the impressive Damien Duff for that matter, did not start is another question and one that confirms the infuriating enigma of Signor Ranieri. Wolves are the kind of English fodder tailor-made for the attacking bludgeon that is Hasselbaink.

Whatever was behind Ranieri's thinking was not made clear. He refused to speak after the final whistle - no doubt trying to establish exactly when Sven Goran Eriksson, or whoever, will take occupancy of his office. It is all very sad, all very messy. His appearance before the crowd at 2.40pm certainly looked like a farewell and it sparked a rousing crowd response which is exactly what he received, belatedly, from his players when they were frittering the game away after falling behind.

Hasselbaink's goals meant he became only the 12th player to score 100 in the Premiership - he now stands on 102 - and only the third foreigner after Dwight Yorke and Thierry Henry. Other landmarks were also reached with the indefatigable Frank Lampard playing his 100th consecutive League game, joining an élite alongside just eight others, and scoring the goal which dragged his team back into it after a ragged hour.

The bare fact that they did so at least confirmed the belief that many are playing for their coach's future. "There has always been a unity with the players," insisted Hasselbaink. "I think it [the speculation] is a little bit hyped up in the papers. We keep on going." Indeed they do. For the blunt matter is they are second in the table and six points behind Arsenal. If they had not lost both their matches against the leaders they would share the summit.

It is of no consolation to Ranieri, or Abramovich who had clearly made up his mind about the coach before he bought Chelsea. The Italian was prescient, revealing, in a newspaper column yesterday, that he had told the then chief executive Trevor Birch soon after the Russian's arrival that they were both for the chop. His stay of execution was only lengthened because Eriksson delayed last summer.

"Wolves come here the wounded animal," Ranieri said in his programme notes and he could have been talking about himself. Nevertheless, Jones' side did indeed limp into town and, inside four minutes, they were behind. Mario Melchiot played the ball inside to Lampard who quickly ferried it to Joe Cole. A clever pass picked out the full-back in the penalty area, who had continued his run, and he all too easily brushed aside Mark Kennedy to calmly shoot across Paul Jones.

Wolves retreated. Possession was surrendered but despite an eye-catching volley by Hernan Crespo, Chelsea made little of it. Then they gifted an equaliser with collective culpability. Celestine Babayaro, in his first start for two months, chose the wrong option in passing back to John Terry who erred himself in trying to find William Gallas. Henri Camara intervened and, through on goal, finally showed the composure he has so often lacked with a low shot. Chelsea almost conceded again when Kennedy met Camara's cross. His half-volley flew wide.

Duff's half-time arrival made for an even more open, entertaining encounter. But it was Wolves in the ascendancy as play became stretched. Crespo raced down the right and crossed for what seemed like a certain goal for Lampard - only for a brilliant intervention from Jody Craddock. The defender did even better moments later as Marco Ambrosio, an agitated figure throughout, missed a corner and he headed in with alarming ease. Paul Ince's drive could have settled matters - but Ambrosio, with a degree of redemption, parried. It proved a pivotal moment. Chelsea poured forward and Duff squared the ball to Lampard who thumped it, unerringly, from 25 yards. The relief was palpable.

Hasselbaink, just arrived, spun his marker before charging into the area. He took one further touch and thrashed the ball into the net. As Wolves pressed they were caught again. Again it was Duff the provider sending Hasselbaink scurrying away. But he wasn't finished. Once more he was free, in space, and steered the ball around the crushed goalkeeper. "For 70 minutes we were in charge and then we went gung-ho and started to charge all over the place," said Jones. "It's very hard to swallow." As the celebrations rang out, Ranieri would have nodded in agreement.

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