Lampard cracks whip as Chelsea kick on towards finishing line

Tottenham Hotspur 0 - Chelsea 2
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The Independent Football

As front-runners from Crisp, the steeplechaser reeled in by Red Rum a generation ago, to Paula Radcliffe can testify, leading the pack is a demanding route to victory, one which can easily turn to shattering defeat. Chelsea, however, insist they are "thriving" in the role. It is, said Frank Lampard after his goals at White Hart Lane secured their sixth successive Premiership win, hugely preferable to chasing.

As front-runners from Crisp, the steeplechaser reeled in by Red Rum a generation ago, to Paula Radcliffe can testify, leading the pack is a demanding route to victory, one which can easily turn to shattering defeat. Chelsea, however, insist they are "thriving" in the role. It is, said Frank Lampard after his goals at White Hart Lane secured their sixth successive Premiership win, hugely preferable to chasing.

Looking back to last season, when Chelsea choked under the pressure of trying to match Arsenal's remorseless march to the title, Lampard said: "It's tough when you keep getting good results, and they keep getting good results. And then when you have a bad result, they still get a good one. Arsenal set the standard last year. We have been doing the same recently and we have to continue if we are going to win the league. With the spirit we've got, and the confidence we've got, there's no reason why we can't."

While Lampard was speaking Arsenal, unbeknown to him, were heading to defeat at Bolton. On a potentially pivotal Saturday all three rivals had testing away fixtures. In the morning Manchester United won their game at Liverpool. Chelsea kept their nerve to match them at Tottenham, but Arsenal cracked at Bolton. That left Chelsea 10 points clear.

"We are not scared of being a few points clear," Lampard said, "we are thriving on it. It's nice to be this far ahead. A lot of the squad have never been in this position before and we are handling it very well. Maybe we will lose. It's then down to how we react to that, but we have the squad to do it. There's a lot of mind games going on. People predicted a blip for Arsenal last year, but it never happened. We'll keep our heads down and try not to have a blip."

With Jose Mourinho ducking out of the press conference, perhaps feeling he had said enough during the week, it was left to Steve Clarke, his assistant, to express an equally confident management view. "It's difficult to look into the future but you can't see a blip coming because we keep playing well," he said. "Week in, week out, the players keep reaching the same level we are asking them to. I'm sure we'll lose a game - I don't know where, I don't know when - but we would have to have a poor run, and the other teams to keep winning, for them to catch us. And maybe we have had our poor run when we lost to Manchester City [in October]. We drew a couple of games heading into that match."

That "poor run" produced eight points from 15. If even that form were repeated to the end of the season Arsenal or United would need to win 12 of their final 15 games to overhaul Chelsea. The leaders do have difficult fixtures ahead, notably at home to Arsenal and at Old Trafford, Goodison Park, the Reebok and St James' Park, but it is hard to see them losing more than a couple of games.

This looked a tricky match, given Spurs had taken 23 from 27 points in a nine-match unbeaten run. But the last time Chelsea lost a league game to Spurs Gary Lineker scored the winner and John Bumstead got Chelsea's consolation.

Spurs began positively, Jermain Defoe worrying Petr Cech with a deflected shot. But the warning signs were there, Didier Drogba chipping just wide after running on to Lampard's pass and Paul Robinson alertly denying Damien Duff on the half-hour. Then came the penalty appeals. Arjen Robben, pushed over by Noe Pamarot after John Terry sent him clear, had his denied but Alexei Smertin, tripped by Ledley King as he met Duff's cross, had his granted. Both were contentious but both, after exhaustive repeat viewing, looked penalties.

One proved enough. Lampard dispatched it and though Spurs pressed Chelsea hard enough to provoke four bookings the visiting defence, last breached six matches ago, never looked like conceding. Instead in injury time it was Robinson who was beaten, Lampard driving in Gudjohnson's cut-back. "They have all the ingredients to be champions," said the Spurs manager Martin Jol admiringly.

Goals: Lampard (40) pen 0-1; Lampard (90) 0-2.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Pamarot (Marney, 70), Naybet, King, Edman; Mendes (Yeates, 77), Brown, Carrick, Ziegler (Gardner, 67); Keane, Defoe. Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Kelly.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Johnson, Terry, Gallas, Ferreira; Smertin (Jarosik, 75), Makelele, Lampard; Duff (Cole, 79), Drogba (Gudjohnsen, 73), Robben. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Bridge.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Tottenham Hotspur Brown. Chelsea Duff, Johnson, Terry, Makelele.

Man of the match: Lampard.

Attendance: 36,105.

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