Terry and Cole show Chelsea hallmark

Liverpool 0 - Chelsea 1
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The Independent Football

Premiership titles are made of victories like this - just ask Liverpool, who know a thing or two about what it takes. They will tell you of the skill needed, the commitment required, the stamina, the resilience, the team spirit, the unwavering belief. They would also confess that you need luck. Plenty and plenty of luck.

Chelsea had enough of that precious commodity yesterday to last them a season but they rode it superbly, sucking in everything Liverpool had to offer before squeezing out a triumph that may yet be seen as a watershed. Arsenal had come here a month previously and left with their tails between their legs. As they strutted home yesterday, Chelsea's were standing as high and as proud as a peacock's.

They had to survive two cacophonous penalty appeals before that, mind you - one that was blatancy personified - as well as withstanding a Liverpool onslaught that lasted the entire first half and beyond. But when all was said and done, Chelsea's inexorable march to their first League title in 50 years continued, and they didn't care how vociferous or justified the whinges were.

Joe Cole was probably more oblivious to the bleating than anyone, having come on with a quarter of an hour to go to seal the double over Liverpool. It was his strike that did for the Reds at Stamford Bridge in September, and on Merseyside at least they will wonder how on earth it can be that the England international spends the majority of his Saturdays with bum on wood.

The answer lies, of course, in Jose Mourinho's squad of riches, and although he called Chelsea's injury situation "a disaster'' he was still able to bring on Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman, as well as the match-winner.

Mourinho's brimming CV will no doubt be credited with the substitution that mattered, but it was his intervention at half-time that perhaps had more influence on this game. "At half-time Jose told us that neither team were playing well and that this was a great chance for us to steal a win,'' said John Terry, the captain whose contribution at the heart of the defence went well beyond the call of duty. But how Mourinho was able to convince his men that the home side were there for the taking says barrel-loads about his man-management, not to mention his cheek.

Because Liverpool were rampant in the opening 45 minutes, forcing Chelsea on to the back foot. The champions-elect didn't seem to know how to get off it as Liverpool did everything but score. Petr Cech, the Chelsea goalkeeper, had a lot to do with that, but not many will deny that the referee, Mike Riley, had even more of a say. If it was an erroneous decision to call a foul on Florent Sinama-Pongolle when Claude Makele had perfected a move he must have witnessed on Strictly Come Dancing to pull the striker down in the box in the 23rd minute, then the inability to point to the spot when Tiago had so obviously handled the ball 15 minutes later was downright embarrassing.

Steven Gerrard's free-kick was destined for Antonio Nunez's head before Tiago's outstretched arm flicked it away and, as all eyes turned to Riley for the inevitable, the referee tantalisingly put mouth to whistle before lowering it and waving play on. He later revealed that he was merely anticipating having to blow up for another infringement, but as Gerrard and his troops surrounded him perhaps they were doing nothing more than advising that he should try concentrating on the here and now rather than clairvoyancy.

Injustice filled the old stadium, and the anger brewing was brought to boiling point when it emerged at half-time that the crude challenge by Frank Lampard on Xabi Alonso in the 20th minute had broken the Spanish playmaker's ankle. Alonso will be out for six weeks plus, compounding an injury crisis that makes Mourinho's look trivial, as well as capping a first half that Anfield deserves to remember but one that is probably best forgotten.

Djimi Traoré will certainly be erasing the memory banks of his half-hearted effort after 15 minutes that was easily collected by Cech, when put clean through by Sinama-Pongolle, and although this was their best chance, in terms of possession Liverpool were a distance clear.

"Sure, it's unfair,'' admitted the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, "because we controlled that first half. The two things changed the game for us. The injury to Xabi, that caused us to adjust and alter our shape, and that penalty decision.''

While acknowledging that Liverpool had hardly been blessed by fortune and fully warranted a point, Mourinho refused to put the three points down purely to this incident. "The same thing happened at Newcastle in the week, when the referee failed to see Ashley Cole's handball in the box for Arsenal,'' he said. "That's football. These things happen.''

They certainly do, as do late winners against the run of play. To be fair to Chelsea they had approached the second half with more adventure, and were threatening to get on top when Cole struck in the 80th minute. Glen Johnson nodded back Arjen Robben's corner into the path of Cole, whose right-foot drive took a wicked deflection - is there any other kind? - off Jamie Carragher before flashing past Dudek. Liverpool hit the panic button, and although Cech conjured heroics to deny a Luis Garcia header and a Gerrard free-kick, Chelsea were not for budging. Indeed, it will take one almighty shove to veer them off the title track now.

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