Sunderland 0 Chelsea 1: Terry underlines Chelsea's title credentials

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The Independent Football

If it is now regarded as Manchester United's title to lose, it could equally be described as Chelsea's title to win. These are claims that alienate Arsenal but there is logic supporting the Chelsea theory – Arsenal and United have yet to play at Stamford Bridge, where, it is worth recalling, Chelsea have not lost in the league for more than four years.

Arsenal go to west London on Sunday, so the record will be tested afresh – Arsenal were also the last away victors, pre-Mourinho in February 2004 – but first Chelsea travel to White Hart Lane on Wednesday. Victory at Tottenham would take Chelsea level on points with Arsenal, though shy (probably) on goal difference.

But there are enough ifs to mangle the brain and one is that if Chelsea play then as they did here – first 30 minutes excellent and vibrant, next 60 withdrawn and moderate – they will not get three points from Spurs and permutations will be irrelevant.

On Wednesday, though, it would be a surprise not to see Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Essien and Nicolas Anelka back. Alex, Michael Ballack and Salomon Kalou would make way. It is a returning trio Arsène Wenger, for example, would love to have.

It is again a gentle reminder of the depth of Chelsea and that healthy stealth has been a theme of late in the league. There may have been domestic cup disappointments at Wembley and Barnsley but this victory made it 12 unbeaten in the league and as John Terry said afterwards: "We are quietly coming up on the rails. We are right in the mix. A few months ago we were 13 points behind."

Terry agreed that at the Stadium of Light, Chelsea were "hanging on" but he even derived inspiration from that. "That first season we won the league," he said, "we had a lot of 1-0 victories. We went 1-0 up in a lot of games and other teams made it difficult."

Terry scored eight times in three competitions that season but his unchallenged 10th-minute header here was his first in blue for 19 months. It was good timing with Arsenal slipping up again.

Terry then did his bit at the other end as Sunderland rallied. There was some robust stuff but with Alex looking nervous alongside, Terry was also exposed three times in the second half. Danny Collins and Kenwyne Jones (twice) revealed a lack of finishing prowess that explains Sunderland's run of four games without a goal.

A decent last touch on any occasion and Chelsea's ability to respond in an intimidating atmosphere would have been seen. The likelihood is that they would have been able to cope, Didier Drogba was particularly sharp in that opening half hour.

It has been an odd season for Drogba, who has no league goal since November, but maybe he is running into form at the right time.

"Do I think that people have underestimated us?" asked Avram Grant, rhetorically. "I think 'yes'. In many ways."

Goals: Terry (10) 0-1.

Sunderland (4-4-1-1) Gordon; Bardsley, Nosworthy, Evans, Collins; Edwards (Prica 62), Whitehead, Leadbitter (Harte 85), Reid; O'Donovan (Yorke 73); Jones. Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), McShane.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cudicini; Ferreira, Alex, Terry, A Cole; Mikel; J Cole (Wright-Phillips 82), Lampard, Ballack (Essien 73), Kalou; Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Carvalho, Shevchenko.

Booked: Sunderland Whitehead, Leadbitter Chelsea Mikel.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Man of the match: A Cole.

Attendance: 44,679.