Wigan Athletic 0 Chelsea 2: Lampard makes Chelsea cruise but clock ticking for Hutchings

Resurgent midfielder scores again to leave Wigan languishing in drop zone
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The Independent Online

After the swamping of Manchester City, the anticipated deluge of goals against a much more vulnerable Lancashire opponent did not happen, nor was their much in the way of champagne football from Avram Grant's new adventurers. Yet Chelsea's seventh victory in a row in all competitions was comfortable enough after a dreadful start by Wigan handed them both the game's goals in the opening 18 minutes.

The win reduced the distance between Chelsea and the Premier League leaders to three points courtesy of the draw at the Emirates Stadium, a result in which Grant, in the time-honoured way of football, said he had no interest. "What is important is what we do," he said.

To their credit, Wigan responded with character and fight, putting Chelsea under some pressure, particularly in the second half and only a very good, one-handed save by Petr Cech from a header by the substitute Antoine Sibierski denied them the reward of a goal late on.

None the less, these are difficult days for Wigan's manager, Chris Hutchings, whose team has slipped into the bottom three after losing six matches off the reel. He will not thank anyone for pointing out, after his 12th game in charge, that he had reached only that number when he was dismissed as Bradford's manager in November 2000, nor that his current chairman, Dave Whelan, who is holidaying in Barbados next week, chose his Caribbean winter break as the moment to sack Bruce Rioch as Wigan manager in 2001.

Whelan has never seemed inclined to act in haste but losing habits can be difficult to shake off and Wigan's run of poor results has the smell of a developing pattern, for all that Hutchings insists that all will be well once his full squad is available. "I was pleased with the commitment in the second half," he said. "But I don't want anyone to be too happy about that because we need to win games. Giving away two goals left us with a mountain to climb."

With Michael Brown preferred to Sibierski in the starting line-up as Hutchings sought to match Chelsea's numbers in midfield, Wigan had begun eagerly and were aggrieved not to have won a penalty inside eight minutes when Juliano Belletti illegally prevented Marcus Bent from trying to reach a cross. In defence, however, they began so hesitantly in the face of an opponent they knew would have the confidence to attack from the outset that they surrendered the game effectively in the time it took Chelsea to go two goals up.

Shaun Wright-Phillips, making his first Premier League start for Grant in a Chelsea line-up from which Joe Cole was absent, helped to inflict the first wound by bursting between two defenders on the right flank before looking up to find Frank Lampard bearing down on goal. Clearly in the mood, Chelsea's stand-in captain was predictably first to his team-mate's low cross to claim his fourth goal in two matches, having score a hat-trick on Wednesday against Leicester City.

It was a moment of poor defending from Wigan but one that they soon trumped when Belletti advanced from his own half entirely free of impediment before deciding, as the home goal came into range, that he might as well have a shot. Chris Kirkland was beaten all ends up from 25 yards.

Thereafter, Chelsea seemed to be doing just enough on this occasion, rather than ruthlessly going for the jugular. "We scored six last week, four in midweek – it can't happen every time," Grant said. But his team were careless at times, John Obi Mikel and Wayne Bridge both guilty of giving the ball away in dangerous positions.

The latest rumours of unrest surrounding Didier Drogba – reported to have expressed his reluctance to join Chelsea in the first place on a DVD released in France – encouraged the home crowd to bait the striker at every opportunity, especially after he had run into the back of Andreas Granqvist in his own penalty area only for the Wigan player to be booked. Ironic cheers followed when Drogba was then carded himself after an incident with Wigan's man of the match Brown, then boos when he was taken off with 15 minutes left. As yet, Chelsea are making no comment on the DVD.

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