Frank Lampard’s 181st Chelsea goal was enough to end Sunderland’s good run under new manager Martin O’Neil.
Lampard was the quickest to react after Fernando Torres’ stunning bicycle kick almost shattered the crossbar at the Shed End, stabbing home the rebound.
In truth though the Blues were lucky their visitors didn’t leave with at least one point after a nervy ending to the game that saw Andre Villas-Boas side drop off and invite Sunderland to attack. Thankfully there wasn’t a cool enough head in the Black Cats’ ranks, and with Spurs only drawing, Chelsea are now only 6 points behind their London rivals.
There were chances for both sides in the first half, and on another day this could’ve been a very high scoring game. Stephane Sessegnon turned in an eye-catching performance for the visitors and his good work put youngster James McClean in on goal, only for Jose Bosingwa to nip in in time to snatch away the chance from the Irishman while Stamford Bridge screamed for offside. Upon a second look the Sunderland man was in fact onside and Bosingwa had come to Chelsea’s rescue. Good timing in many ways for the Portuguese after he was deservedly criticised for a poor display at Wolves. Nicklas Bentdner also had a decent chance but could only place his header straight at Petr Cech.
It was Chelsea though who broke the deadlock, and after some good build up and a blocked shot from Raul Meireles, it was Juan Mata who provided the delicious cross for Torres to unleash his volley goalwards. The ball cannoned down off the bar straight to Lampard, who didn’t have to move in order to draw level with Jimmy Greaves in number of league goals for Chelsea. But both goalscorer and spectators knew who the key was for this goal, with Lampard turning and pointing to Torres while the Bridge sang his name.
In many way this was Torres’ best showing in a blue shirt for some time, with the Spaniard swiveling and firing inches wide moments after the goal, obviously buoyed by his contribution. In to the second half he was constantly bustling for the team and taking on defenders, and twice had big appeals for penalties turned down. The first of which saw him beat three players as he burst into the box, only to be blocked off, referee Phil Dowd waved away the appeals as Mata very nearly turned home the loose ball. But the second incident was the most frustrating, because by this point, midway through the second half, the Bridge and Torres himself were getting desperate for a goal, but referee Dowd saw Larrsson’s trip on the Spaniard as a dive and booked him for simulation, much to the disgust of the Matthew Harding stand. In truth though it summed up Dowd’s day, he got little right, including a clumsy challenge on Bentdner by Ashley Cole that could’ve handed Sunderland a way back into the game.
However the visitors did a good job of creating chances for themselves, with Gardner wasting a great chance from Sessegnon’s cut back, and Bentdner showing a lack of cool in front of goal when he tried to chip an onrushing Cech.
In the midst of this late push Chelsea tried to counter and only the odd loose pass prevented them creating more clear cut opportunities, with Meireles and his lob the only real save Mignolet had to make late on.
There was also the fantastic sight of the return of Michael Essien, who replaced Lampard in what was a slightly negative substitution, but having the Ghanian back can only be a good thing for the Blues hopes for the remainder of the season.
This gritty win, coupled with a consistent improvement in the performance of Torres could still see the Blues add to the club’s honor’s board come May.