A laboured win over a team in the bottom three is not exactly cause for an open-top parade but in their present predicament Chelsea and Andre Villas-Boas will take anything going. Mindful perhaps that Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked after a goalless draw at home to Hull three years ago this month, the suffering manager combined delight and relief at a first victory in six games.
It put his team three points ahead of Arsenal and seven behind third-placed Tottenham before the north London pair meet today. Clearly, only two of the capital's three principal clubs can make the Champions' League places, but Chelsea still have both of the others to play.
In front of Roman Abramovich, who had demanded to know the thinking behind team selection for the 3-1 defeat by Napoli in midweek, Villas-Boas restored Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Michael Essien, and was rewarded by Lampard in particular. Whatever his motivation – bloody-mindedness or simply professional pride – Lampard took hold of the captain's armband and then the game, making one goal before scoring his 150th in League football.
When Bolton, who have never recovered from a dreadful finish to last season, concede the first goal, they lose. That did not mean that Chelsea could relax after David Luiz seized the lead soon after half-time, but they could once Didier Drogba headed in Lampard's corner. By the end the home crowd, who had been initially supportive, then had their senses dulled in a soporific first half, were quite perky again.
So was their manager, who said: "The pressure has been on the team to get a result and the most important thing for us is to build from this day onwards. It's an important day because it can be the start to get our form right." He insisted that bringing back the senior players so soon after conveying his thoughts on the matter to the owner was "a coincidence" and dismissed the other conspiracy theory that he would soon be taking over from a former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri at Internazionale by saying: "There isn't a vacancy there and neither am I looking for a job. I'm looking forward to next year's project here."
Bolton must now get through a visit to Manchester City on Saturday, then pick up points against three other teams in the bottom five, Queens Park Rangers, Blackburn and Wolves. Their manager, Owen Coyle, was understandably annoyed with the manner of conceding the goals, all of which illustrated the sort of poor defending that has undermined the team for much of the season. "Knowing they'd be a bit down in confidence, we worked hard, but goals change games," Coyle said.
The visitors' defence was rent asunder twice in the opening few minutes, only for Daniel Sturridge to shoot straight at the goalkeeper, Adam Bogdan, and Lampard to be forced wide and earn only a corner. For the rest of the first half, however, Bolton did much better – or Chelsea did worse – and chances were strictly limited. The crucial period was therefore the first quarter of an hour after the interval. In the 48th minute, Bolton surrendered possession to David Luiz, who fed Drogba and was well placed to receive the rebound from his cross, curling a drive just inside the far post.
Coyle's anger at the second goal was directed at the marking that allowed Drogba a free header from Lampard's corner to nod in his 100th goal for the club. In between times, David Luiz sent a header against a post and Drogba's shot clipped the crossbar. There was no way back for Bolton, who had nothing to offer other than an occasional speedy run by the Arsenal loanee Ryo Miyaichi and they conceded again when Lampard was allowed to steal in unmarked to the far post and volley in Juan Mata's cross with the side of his foot.
When Drogba limped off, FernandoTorres must surely have thought his time had come to exploit such a generous defence and claim a first goal in 23 appearances for club and country (Spain have just dropped him for the first time). Not everything is yet rosy in the Chelsea garden, however. His only shot flew high over the bar and at the final whistle he was straight down the tunnel without a glance at the crowd, body language indicating a total lack of confidence. Lampard, meanwhile, milked the applause from all four sides of the ground in a personal lap of honour. He deserved it.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Cole; Ramires (Mikel, 88), Essien, Lampard; Sturridge (Kalou, 80), Drogba (Torres, 76), Mata.
Bolton (4-4-1-1): Bogdan; Steinsson, Wheater, Ream, Ricketts; Tuncay (Eagles, 75), Muamba, Reo-Coker, Miyaichi; Pratley; Ngog (Sordell, 65).
Referee Michael Oliver.
Man of the match Lampard (Chelsea).
Match rating 6/10.