Anyone investing even a modest sum on Wolverhampton Wanderers to win here at something around 20-1 would have received an unexpectedly good run for their money. It was tighter than many a fixture between League leaders and those down among the dead men at the bottom, without in the end even denting Chelsea's extraordinary home record. Like all Premier League visitors since Aston Villa last March, Wolves failed to score, but few if any can have had more opportunities to do so. A finish was simply not there, bringing to mind last season's feeble total of 32 goals, the worst of any team.
Steven Fletcher, bought from Burnley in the summer, has been hired to help Kevin Doyle in attack but Fletcher and the heavyweight – in every sense – Sylvan Ebanks-Blake did not appear until the last four minutes, when Salomon Kalou's goal had made the game safe for Chelsea, sending them five points clear of Manchester City who meet Arsenal today. Florent Malouda had scored the first, although even that was bookmarked by half-chances, and sometimes better at the other end.
Matt Jarvis, a young winger highly regarded and watched by Fabio Capello's lieutenant Franco Baldini, found Ashley Cole a meaner opponent than most he normally meets, and was replaced before the end. Meanwhile, the danger of pushing forward, Wolves discovered, was exposure to counter-attacks of pace and verve, which nevertheless tended to break down despite the return of Didier Drogba to the home attack.
"It is important to win when you are not 100 per cent," Chelsea's manager Carlo Ancelotti said, acknowledging that his team were a good few percentage points below that. "It was a difficult week because of the travelto Moscow. Our position is good, but tomorrow Manchester City can be two points behind."
For Wolves, Mick McCarthy had reason to be pleased with the performance against the side he rates as "the best in the League", while bemoaning a lack of "devilment" in front of goal. The visitors managed half a dozen reasonable chances in the first half alone. Almost all, however, were directed at Petr Cech and too many were weak headers, notably by Dave Edwards, Doyle and Jelle van Damme. The last of those, midway through the half, was heavily punished when Chelsea immediately broke to score. Nicolas Anelka led the counter, feeding Yuri Zhirkov, who from the byline cut the ball back across goal for Malouda to drive in his seventh goal of the season.
Other than that, and Anelka's shot into the side-netting after an equallyquick break out of defence, the most likely Chelsea scorer for a long time was the improbable figure of Jose Bosingwa. Returning to start a game for the first time in a year since his serious knee injury at Villa Park, the Portuguese full-back forced two good low saves from Marcus Hahnemann, the goalkeeper using his foot each time to concede a corner.
Hahnemann, an extrovert American, is clearly proud of his footwork; later he would tackle Drogba outside the penalty area when the striker was clean through on to Branislav Ivanovic's immaculate pass. Stephen Hunt, still reviled here for the incident at Reading four years ago that caused Cech a nasty head injury, appeared as a substitute and pantomime villain for the second half and almost stunned his abusers with a goal inside two minutes. One of the numerous Wolves corners fell nicelyfor him to aim a diving header which would have crept inside the far post had Michael Essien not blocked it.
Kalou, in gloves for autumn, replaced Malouda and when Chelsea used his flank for a more coherent move a fine goal resulted. The substitute started it all with a pass inside to Drogba and kept running as the Ivorian fed Essien, whose pass was perfectly placed and weighted for Kalou to slip past the goalkeeper.
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Bosingwa
Match rating: 6/10