Mourinho's courage and tactical acumen marks year of magic

Chelsea 5 Bolton Wanderers 1
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The Independent Football

In the circumstances no one could blame them for wanting to stop and watch, to share the wonder of this performance, to admire a game turned upon its head. No one, of course, except Mourinho. Even at a moment of glorious vindication for the Chelsea manager - in the 10 minutes when his team roared back from a goal down to 4-1 up - he seems to have an extra-sensory ability to detect when his orders are being disobeyed. Even more than usual, everything that took place after half-time at Stamford Bridge felt like it was being directed by the silent hand of Mourinho.

The comeback against Bolton will take its place as one of the seminal matches in Chelsea's season should, and it is difficult to imagine otherwise, they convert their nine-point lead into another Premiership title come May. It included all those vital elements that speak of a team's great character - adversity, recovery and triumph - and it established another landmark in the development of a team who are 38 games undefeated, a whole Premiership season's worth.

But what it will be remembered for above all is the tactical refinements of Mourinho that changed the course of the match. At half-time, and a goal down, he took off Asier del Horno, switched to a 3-5-2 system, added Eidur Gudjohnsen to his attack and then watched while Chelsea buried Bolton. In all, Mourinho used three different formations, he switched between them four times and he secured the ninth successive win of the season.

It was remarkable to watch, and brought home the power of Mourinho's tactical acumen in thrilling terms but far more radical than the changes he made was the moment that he made them. The old managerial wisdom of waiting for the hour mark, of hedging your bets, of delaying the big change is an anathema to Mourinho. He had already disappeared into the Stamford Bridge tunnel a few minutes before the end of the first half, and he wore the countenance of a man who was ready for change.

There was an uncharacteristically poor piece of defending that allowed El Hadji Diouf's cross to slip through the box and find Stelios Giannakopoulos at the far post to roll in Bolton's goal on four minutes. Sam Allardyce's team appeared Chelsea's equals for much of the half and Gary Speed clipped the bar with a shot with 10 minutes of the half remaining. But the away side were not without their problems, too, and the first substitution of the day, it should be remembered, was Allardyce's.

He removed the adapted left-back Henrik Pedersen and replaced him with Ricardo Gardner with three minutes left of the half after the Dane was beaten for the third time by Shaun Wright-Phillips and by the interval Allardyce was forced to make another. Speed had picked up a thigh injury and the lost influence of that classy veteran midfielder proved so significant that Mourinho sought the Welshman out on the pitch at full-time to ask him why he had not emerged for the second half.

The circumstances were ripe for serious change and while it took a manager as brave as Mourinho to make them, he had been granted his luck, too. A tackle by Michael Essien on Tal Ben Haim - studs up, a raking down the leg - had earned the Ghana midfielder a booking rather than the dismissal it deserved. "Chelsea should have been 1-0 down and down to 10 men after the Essien tackle," Allardyce said. "I could be stood here with a victory under my belt and the first manager to beat Chelsea this season but they still might have beaten us with 10 men they have that much quality."

Without Speed to counter him in the midfield, Frank Lampard took control of the afternoon's events. His free-kick on 52 minutes was spilled by Jussi Jaaskelainen and Didier Drogba poked home the rebound and then the striker returned the favour. Running onto Gudjohnsen's pass he back-heeled the ball to Lampard who scored from close range before adding a second just before the hour with a low free-kick.

That free-kick had come as a result of a misjudgement by Gardner who, brought on to deal with Wright-Phillips, had been sent off for handling a pass floated over his head to the England winger. Two minutes later Drogba met Lampard's corner at the near post for the fourth goal and Stamford Bridge finally had a moment to take stock of their team's achievements. They responded by standing up, they sang, "for the special one" who, for the first time in an hour, was sitting down again.

The fifth was Gudjohnsen's, he ran onto Essien's through ball and beat Jaaskelainen to leave Chelsea two games short of the record 11 straight wins at the start of the season that Tottenham set in 1960. "That was in the 20th century," Mourinho said. "Now we are in the 21st century and it's very different." Although even he would have to agree that there is something timeless about great managers making courageous decisions.

Goals: Giannakopoulos (4) 0-1; Drogba (52) 1-1; Lampard (55) 2-1; Lampard (59) 3-1; Drogba (61) 4-1; Gudjohnsen (74) 5-1.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Gallas, Terry, Carvalho, Del Horno (Gudjohnsen, h-t); Makelele; Wright-Phillips (C Cole, 74), Essien, Lampard, J Cole (Ferreira, 59); Drogba. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Huth.

Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Ben Haim, Jaidi, N'Gotty, Pedersen (Gardner, 43); Giannakopoulos, Faye, Speed (Nakata, h-t), Nolan, Diouf; Davies (Fernandes, 75). Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Borgetti.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Chelsea Drogba, Essien; Bolton Nolan, Jaidi. Sent off: Bolton Gardner.

Man of the match: Drogba.

Attendance: 41,775.