Manchester City 0 Chelsea 1: Cole's rich seam of form fires Chelsea

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho described them as a "group of human beings ready for anything"; the rest may choose to describe Chelsea's achievements at the half-way stage of the Premiership season as a little closer to the super-human. No Frank Lampard last night for the first time in 164 Premiership matches and no goals before the 79th minute but, in the absence of one inspirational Englishman, Joe Cole assumed the role of match-winner once again.

The chasing pack will read Chelsea's statistics and weep: only five points dropped in 19 matches, seven successive victories since defeat to Manchester United on 6 November and five wins by the 1-0 margin already. Manchester City are the only team to have held out against the might of Mourinho for more than two games, but should his side beat West Ham on Monday then the Portuguese coach can claim to have beaten every single Premiership side within 18 months of taking the job.

"Untouchable," was how Mourinho described Cole's performance after Lampard was withdrawn at the very last moment. His name was on the team-sheet, and he participated in the warm-up, but the England midfielder eventually succumbed to a virus that ended a record-breaking run in the side that stretched back to October 2001. "Playing without Frank was a big test, he is there for 164 games and then a few minutes before kick-off you realise he is not there," Mourinho said. "The answer was magnificent."

It was a match that, in terms of what it symbolised, seemed on a par with the epic defeat of Blackburn last February and it prompted one of Mourinho's grander defences of his club's ethos. "Almost all the great teams in Europe are on their holidays at the moment," he said. "You don't see the big stars fighting and playing like my team played. If you say this is the power of money, I don't agree.

"It's the power of the group together, a group of human beings who have been together since the first day and are ready for everything. It is the power of a group of friends working together - it is not the power of money."

There is the possibility that Liverpool, with their two games in hand, can cut Chelsea's lead to nine points but the second half of the season, Mourinho said, would be about his team "controlling the situation".

"For the rest it is not just about winning, it is about Chelsea making mistakes," he added. "We are strong and we have more points than we did at this stage last season. We will play our matches and we don't need to worry about anyone else."

For Manchester City their third defeat in four games was not, their manager Stuart Pearce said, the result of any lack of effort. In Joey Barton, City had arguably the game's outstanding player: he scraped a boot down Michael Essien's shin, slid straight through John Terry and bossed the centre of the midfield in the absence of Lampard. But City rarely came close to scoring.

There was not even a place on the Chelsea bench for Shaun Wright-Phillips who, after his £21m signing from City this summer, was considered fourth choice by Mourinho among the wingers he has at his disposal. "You can think what you want but it was just a technical decision," the Chelsea manager said. "No dramas and nothing strange." But for Wright-Phillips it must have been difficult to take - even his younger brother Bradley was afforded a substitute's appearance by Pearce.

City were lucky to escape on 23 minutes when Terry's long ball towards Didier Drogba was completely misjudged by Sylvain Distin who, after his disastrous performance against Wigan this week, seems to be enduring some kind of crisis. Drogba controlled the ball and, despite slipping, still beat Distin before nudging the ball past David James, who collided heavily with the striker.

Drogba, as is his way, went down with the maximum dramatic effect but there could be no denying that James had stood in his way as he pursued a chance that would have given him a clear sight of goal. The decision looked to be a simple one, but with the referee Uriah Rennie in charge scarcely anything is straightforward and he awarded City a goal-kick.

One year earlier, Mourinho's solution might have involved sacrificing Cole for a more direct attacking force but these days he has become increasingly reliant upon what the England winger can conjure up. Chelsea managed only their first shot on goal when the substitute Arjen Robben broke through on 76 minutes, but just moments later it was Cole who came up with the winner.

City's defence had already endured one lapse, when Eidur Gudjohnsen's free-kick flashed unchecked across the box before the goal came on 79 minutes. Sun Jihai gave the ball to Robben on the right and he fed Gudjohnsen in the area. His shot deflected off Ben Thatcher, James palmed it out and when the ball dropped it fell to Cole, who poked it home. All his players, Mourinho said, had given "a big answer" - after this the response from the rest of the Premiership will have to be good.

Manchester City (4-4-1-1): James; Onouha, Dunne, Distin, Thatcher (Ireland, 88); Sinclair (Croft, 82), Barton, Sun Jihai, Vassell; Sibierski (B Wright-Phillips, 70); Cole. Substitutes not used: Sommeil, De Vlieger (gk), Jordan.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Geremi, Terry, Gallas, Del Horno; Makelele; J Cole, Gudjohnsen (Ferreira, 82), Essien, Duff (Robben, 58); Drogba (Crespo, 58). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Huth.

Referee: U Rennie (Staffordshire).