Cole to the rescue for Chelsea
Welcome relief for Di Matteo after edgy win over Stoke
Last Updated: 22/09/12 6:59pm
Chelsea won their first game in four matches as the unlikely source of Ashley Cole snatched a late 1-0 victory over Stoke City in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge.
Roberto Di Matteo had in the build-up to the fixture been forced to answer questions about the level of pressure he was under having seen Roman Abramovich visit the club's training ground in midweek.
An appearance at Cobham from the powerful Chelsea owner is usually bad news for managers and the Russian will likely have not been particularly impressed when sat in the stands for Saturday's game against Stoke.
Tony Pulis' visitors, who have lost nine of their last 11 games in all competitions against the Blues, had threatened to take the lead in London when Jon Walters' first-half header hit the crossbar.
And Di Matteo, having rested Frank Lampard and John Terry as substitutes, will have been a little anxious following the previous Super Cup thrashing by Atletico Madrid, league stalemate at Queens Park Rangers and UEFA Champions draw with Juventus.
But Chelsea, who again saw £50million Fernando Torres struggle in attack, grabbed the three points to ensure they will stay top of the table this weekend in the 85th minute when Cole scored his first goal since May 2010.
After his gamble at picking Oscar in that 2-2 draw paid off spectacularly, Di Matteo was emboldened enough to leave out both Terry and Lampard.
But despite Chelsea enjoying more of the ball, Torres, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata played like the strangers they were for most of the afternoon.
Torres did nod a Mata corner over the top but, otherwise, the Champions League winners were guilty of taking too many touches, making one pass too many and allowing Stoke to smother.
The visitors should have made them pay in the 20th minute when an unmarked Walters thumped a header from Glenn Whelan's free-kick against the crossbar.
Branislav Ivanovic was lucky to avoid a yellow card for a shameful dive in the box but no referee could have failed to book Charlie Adam for rugby-tackling Ramires.
Torres is rarely upstaged when it comes to embarrassing moments and he duly added another to his collection with an air-shot after Mata's wonderful dink put him one-on-one with Asmir Begovic.
At the other end, Michael Kightly almost redirected Geoff Cameron's fizzing cross past Petr Cech, while Chelsea's half was summed up when David Luiz smashed a wild shot high into the Shed End.
The home side were not exactly booed off at the break but a flat atmosphere certainly greeted them after the restart.
That changed when Chelsea were denied the latest in a catalogue of recent penalty claims when Oscar went down under Ryan Shawcross' challenge.
It may not have been a spot-kick but did not deserve the acting award that followed - a booking.
That sparked Chelsea and Oscar to life and the Brazilian tested Begovic with a low shot before Mata blazed wide following a defensive mix-up.
Stoke settled and Peter Crouch, Walters and Adam all had sighters before Di Matteo withdrew Hazard for Victor Moses just past the hour mark.
The Potters responded by sending on Michael Owen for Adam but Chelsea almost cut them open when Mata was thwarted by a brilliant Shawcross tackle.
Oscar was becoming more and more of a threat and his deflected grass-cutter was well saved by Begovic before he sent another mid-range shot narrowly wide.
Matthew Etherington replaced Kightly and Cameron Jerome came on for Crouch as Stoke sensed more than a draw.
Etherington dragged wide after John Obi Mikel, of all people, should have done better than squander what was a fine pass by Torres.
Mikel departed for Lampard for the final nine minutes and, four minutes later, Chelsea finally had the breakthrough.
It was the first piece of Barcelona-esque football of the entire afternoon as some lovely build-up ended when Mata's delightful back-heel found Cole, who lifted the ball beyond Begovic.
A brilliant last-ditch Etherington tackle prevented Moses having a chance to make it 2-0 on the break.Terry came on for Mata and a late Luiz tackle on Walters ensured the game ended with some bad blood between the sides, with Etherington also involved in a minor altercation with Ivanovic before the final whistle.
|Chelsea||Team Statistics||Stoke City|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|4||Shots on Target||3|
|7||Shots off Target||6|
|65.7||1st Half Poss.||34.3|
|55.5||2nd Half Poss.||44.5|
Barclays Premier League
|12||West Ham United||38||47|
|13||West Bromwich Albion||38||44|
|20||Queens Park Rangers||38||30|