It was the narrowest, most nerve-racking of victories but for Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea's win last night looked just about enough for him to appease his exacting Russian master.
It took a controversial goal that Owen Coyle said should not have stood, it required a certain good fortune in their own penalty area but Chelsea have finally won their first Premier League game since 10 November. Ancelotti can only hope that somewhere in the Caribbean, Roman Abramovich considers a tight win over Bolton Wanderers as an acceptable result.
The game turned on a very tight decision by World Cup linesman Darren Cann who ruled that Didier Drogba was not off-side when Michael Essien played him through on goal on the hour to cross for Florent Malouda to score. "Ultimately, we've been done with a huge decision that I believe was off-side," said Coyle who, like most in the stadium, had not had the benefit of a replay.
In real time, Drogba looked onside and it should be said that Cann is the best in the business when it comes to the tough calls. His mistakes are rare although there was one in Bolton's 1-1 draw with Wigan Athletic in October in the build-up to Hugo Rodallega's goal and Coyle had not forgotten it.
Coyle said "I've just seen it [last night's decision] in real time. But if I'm wrong, I'd be the first to hold my hands up. I know who he [Cann] is because I had him earlier in the season at Wigan and their goal was clearly offside. There you go. He is a fantastic official."
For Chelsea the details did not matter, it was enough that they moved back to fourth place and, for all those dreadful results this month, they are just four points off the leaders Manchester United, who have played one game fewer. Most importantly it lifts the cloud over Ancelotti who has looked like a man tap-dancing on the brink for some time.
Booed off at half-time by some elements in the crowd – more frustration than derision – Ancelotti's players showed great character to turn the game around. Drogba hit the post four minutes after half-time and rather than that moment derailing Chelsea, it proved the stepping stone to their win.
Ancelotti acknowledged that his team are a long way from their best. "We know the game was not easy. We needed to fight the long ball, we did very well to control [Kevin] Davies and [Johan] Elmander. We lost some passes in the first half. We were a little bit afraid but this is normal because there was pressure in this game. The second half was better.
"It is normal [to be nervous] when the moment is not good. It is impossible to stay calm. If you are a little bit nervous, you have motivation to win the game. We are not at our best: the best condition, the best confidence, the best atmosphere. We can improve. We have to improve and I hope 2011 will be the same as 2010 [in terms of trophies]."
In the first half, the nerves showed. The nadir was a dreadful free-kick hit by Drogba that was so off target it did not even go out for a goal-kick. Nicolas Anelka, back in the side having missed the Arsenal game, could not get in the game.
Coyle's team had the better chances in the first half. Then after the break Frank Lampard threaded a beauty of a ball through to Drogba on the right and his shot hit the post. In the build-up to the goal, Essien bulldozed through Elmander and Stuart Holden before splitting the Bolton defence with a pass. It was a very marginal decision to call Drogba onside but it looked right. He crossed to Malouda to score.
Holden had a shot against John Terry's arm which would have been a very harsh penalty. Coyle thought it was. "I was here last year and we had two stonewall penalties. I think one of them, Didier Drogba was playing volleyball with it so I certainly wasn't going to get that one [last night]."
Holden had a header tipped over by Cech. The goalkeeper dropped the subsequent corner and Drogba dribbled Elmander's shot off the line. Dramatic stuff, but not half as dramatic for Chelsea as it could have been had they not won this game.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa (Ferreira, 90), Ivanovic, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Essien, Lampard; Anelka (Kalou, 90), Drogba, Malouda. Substitutes not used Turnbull (gk), Van Aanholt, Bruma, Kakuta, McEachran.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Ricketts, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; Moreno (Klasnic, 72), Muamba, Holden (M Davies, 82), Taylor (Petrov, 78); K Davies, Elmander. Substitutes not used Bogdan (gk), Blake, Alonso.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire)
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