Anything Liverpool can do, Chelsea can match - or better. At least that was how it looked when Guus Hiddink's team led by four goals with a one-sided match seemingly about to draw to its natural conclusion. Bolton, though, didn't see things that way and gave Chelsea the fright of their lives, scoring three times inside nine remarkable second-half minutes.
Chelsea, somehow, held on to claim the points and remain in the title chase but they will be worried by their uncharacteristically poor defending under pressure, as Bolton went close to pulling off the comeback of the season. Petr Cech's display, in particular, was cause for concern. Liverpool, beaten handsomely by Chelsea in their midweek Champions League clash yet 4-0 winners against Blackburn in yesterday's early kick-off, may sense they are still in the quarter-final tie when they arrive on Tuesday.
"To concede three goals in nine minutes is impossible for a team near the top of the table," said a disbelieving Hiddink. Asked if it would give Liverpool heart, the Chelsea manager added: "It is normal that players react to a situation like this and we must not let it happen again. Everyone, including the goalkeeper, did not perform well. I suppose it was a typical English game." Liverpool, at least, are unlikely to pump high balls into the Chelsea area as frequently as Bolton did.
Bolton's record at Stamford Bridge commands respect, even if their style doesn't always, with three draws and a victory in their previous five visits and they started brightly. Matthew Taylor tried his luck with a long-range free-kick, forcing Cech to palm the ball away, and Wanderers took the game to Chelsea.
Their cause was helped by a lacklustre opening from their hosts, notably when Didier Drogba, ever the drama queen, held his head in his hands when he was beaten to a Frank Lampard pass by keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, failing to notice as the keeper spilled the ball.
Soon, though, Chelsea were into their stride. Lampard's dipping free-kick brought a difficult save from Jaaskelainen, Ashley Cole had a decent penalty shout turned down when he was tripped by Gretar Steinsson and Michael Ballack's curving shot narrowly cleared Jaaskelainen's bar.
The goal Chelsea had been threatening duly arrived five minutes before the interval. Dan Shittu's headed clearance fell for Ballack and the German played in Salomon Kalou on the right before advancing to convert the winger's cross.
Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies missed chances to equalise and Drogba doubled Chelsea's advantage three minutes after the restart, side-footing Lampard's free-kick home after Jlloyd Samuel had felled Kalou on the right.
Steinsson, not so lucky this time, handled a Lampard flick to concede a penalty for Chelsea's third after an hour, driven home emphatically by the England midfielder for his 18th goal this season. When Drogba tapped the ball in from Florent Malouda's corner to make it 4-0, a rout was on the cards. Hiddink clearly thought so, taking off Lampard and Drogba.
Bolton, however, changed the script, resorting to their tried and trusted long-ball game. Ballack cleared one effort off the line in a goalmouth scramble after 70 minutes but soon Ricardo Gardner headed it back into the area, Cech let go of it and substitute Andy O'Brien converted a simple chance. Three minutes later another of Gary Megson's replacements, the influential Chris Basham, bundled the ball in after Cech, unbelievably, left Davies' header as it came back across his goal. Taylor shredded Chelsea nerves when he got in between Terry and Cole to head in the third.
The drama was unrelenting and Steinsson cleared Nicolas Anelka's effort off the line before Gary Cahill's shot was deflected inches wide at the other end. The whistle sounded - and Chelsea could breathe again.
"We had the whole gamut of emotions," said Bolton boss Megson, who cited 20-year-old midfielder Basher as the key behind their revival. "To come here and score three is fantastic but conceding four goals the way we did was far from it."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies