Chelsea edge past 10-man Stoke
Didier Drogba earned Roberto Di Matteo his first points as Chelsea interim boss following a 1-0 win over Stoke.
Last Updated: 10/03/12 5:41pm
Roberto Di Matteo earned his first Premier League win as Chelsea's interim manager following a 1-0 victory over 10-man Stoke City.
It was Chelsea's first league outing since the departure of Andre Villas-Boas last weekend, and they were made to work for the points despite Ricardo Fuller's first-half sending off.
Fuller was shown a straight red for a reckless and dangerous stamp on Branislav Ivanovic in the 25th minute, with Stoke under constant pressure for the remainder of the game.
John Terry and Ivanovic had already hit the woodwork, before Didier Drogba broke the deadlock, latching onto Juan Mata's pass before rounding Asmir Begovic to score his 100th Premier League goal in the 68th minute.
Mata then struck the post with a long range free-kick and, while Stoke worked until the final whistle, they never looked like scoring an equaliser.
Di Matteo's rescue act began in earnest after Tuesday night's FA Cup win at Birmingham, with the caretaker manager's top priority securing Champions League qualification.
The Blues, who needed a three-goal victory to reclaim fourth place, should have been ahead inside four minutes, Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross going close to back-heading an own goal and an unmarked Ivanovic powering over the recalled Frank Lampard's corner.
It was a confident start from the home side, emphasised when Gary Cahill drove forward from the back and unleashed a 10th-minute piledriver Begovic palmed behind.
Making his first league start of the season, Salif Diao earned an early booking for upending Ramires, who was then inches away from glancing in Salomon Kalou's cross.
Cahill had to rescue Chelsea with a block after a slip from Terry - who sealed his remarkable comeback from knee surgery - let in Jonathan Walters, who was then hauled back by John Obi Mikel, prompting another caution.
Fuller was lucky to escape a card for tripping Ivanovic as Stoke continued to frustrate their opponents but the forward then well and truly pressed the self-destruct button in the 25th minute.
Irked by a soft Ivanovic tackle, he inexplicably stamped on the defender's groin, earning a straight red.
Raul Meireles dragged wide when well placed on the edge of the area as Chelsea tried to make the extra man count.
They almost did just past the half-hour when Terry's downward header from Lampard's corner bounced up on to the crossbar, the defender furious at perceived holding by Robert Huth.
Meireles' cross just cleared Drogba and Ivanovic's looping header after a one-two with Lampard almost caught out Begovic.
Di Matteo threw on Mata for Meireles seven minutes from the break, immediately playing a pass that saw Marc Wilson booked for bringing down Ramires.
Lampard almost danced his way through several defenders before Ivanovic wasted a glorious 40th-minute chance, smashing against the bar after Huth's header gifted him the ball.
Ivanovic failed to emerge after the break, with David Luiz coming on at right-back.
Begovic got away with spilling an early Lampard shot before Stoke threw on Wilson Palacios and Matthew Upson for Diao and Wilson, switching to three at the back.
They remained ultra-defensive, with Chelsea lacking the guile to break them down, something that was a constant problem under Villas-Boas.
Terry drilled narrowly wide from 25 yards before Stoke's final change on the hour mark, Kenwyne Jones withdrawn for Cameron Jerome.
Chelsea finally forced Begovic into a save - and a brilliant one at that - when Drogba's 66th-minute free-kick was clawed out of the top corner.
That did not stop Di Matteo sending on Daniel Sturridge for Mikel in search of a goal, ignoring Fernando Torres.
The breakthrough immediately followed, Mata's pinpoint through ball finding Drogba, whose heavy first touch drew Begovic and allowed the striker to round him and slot home his 100th Premier League goal.
Begovic failed to hold another Lampard drive as Stoke finally began to venture from their own half.
Suddenly, Chelsea were on the ropes and Andy Wilkinson even tried his luck with a 45-yard lob.
The home side were still in control but another Terry mistake seven minutes from time let in Jerome, who flashed past the post under pressure from Cahill.
Sturridge twice shot wide from the edge of the box either side of Mata's superb 30-yard free-kick clattering the upright as Chelsea eventually eased home.