Some poor set piece marking from Chelsea and dogged late resistance from Aston Villa saw the Blues crash to their second consecutive away Premier League defeat. Centre halves Richard Dunne and James Collins were the scorers for Villa, after a Didier Drogba speculator opened the scoring for Chelsea, albeit with a fair portion of blame attached to goalkeeper Friedel.
Michael Ballack was ruled out through injury, his place in midfield taken by Florent Malouda. Deco started again in an attacking position, whilst Jose Bosingwa was fit again and returned in place of Branislav Ivanovic at right back. Notably, Petr Cech – in fluro orange once more – returned from suspension, his able deputy Hilario returning to the bench.
England striker Emile Heskey was again amongst the substitutes, with Martin O’Neill preferring John Carew in attack, supported by Gabriel Agbonlahor. Former Chelsea midfielder Steve Sidwell started, as did the industrious and ultimately impressive James Milner, having come on as a substitute left back for England in his most recent outing.
There was pre kick-off drama as referee Steve Bennett was taken ill, causing a five minute delay. Fourth official Kevin Friend stepped in, and former football league referee Paul Rejar was summoned to take over fourth official duties at very short notice.
Friend had to rule on a contentious early incident too, as Agbonlahor went to ground under pressure from Bosingwa. The referee decided that no foul had occurred and waived play on, much to the chagrin of the Villa faithful.
Chants of “You’re not fit to referee!” were still reverberating around Villa Park when Drogba’s long range effort gave Chelsea a scarcely deserved lead. His turn was brilliant, and 35 yards out from goal, the strike was sweet. Though it dipped late and bounced just in front of Villa keeper Friedel, the goal must go down as a goalkeeping error, not that it stopped Drogba wheeling away in celebration, the goal his seventh of the season already.
Ashley Cole nearly doubled the lead when a jinking run took him past three defenders and into the box, however the left back’s shot was marginally high and wide. Before long though, Villa were level.
Thirty one minutes were on the clock, when a corner was swung in by Ashley Young. Lampard rose to clear the danger at the near post, but could only succeed in flicking the ball into the penalty area, where a diving Richard Dunne headed past Cech, scoring in consecutive Premier League matches and equalising for the home side.
The goal sparked Ancelotti’s side, who showed infinite more poise and purpose after conceding. Deco, prominent throughout, nearly embarrassed Friedel again with a delicate chip from outside the area, but the American redeemed himself by scrambling back to claw the ball away – a good save.
Then, as Chelsea piled on further pressure, James Collins made a heroic block at the feet of Didier Drogba, as a neat touch from Terry found the Ivorian free at the back post following a partially cleared corner.
The second half though, saw Villa take the lead just six minutes after the restart. Another corner from Young saw Cech come off his line, fail to collect, and an unmarked James Collins stooped to score his first goal in three and a half years. The irony was not lost on Chelsea fans, after all, his last goal was also against us in claret and blue, in Collins’s time as a West Ham player.
Like in the first half, the goal sparked Chelsea, who ramped up the pressure on Villa. Lampard shot wide, whilst Deco and Malouda forced saves from Friedel when perhaps they should have done more.
Bosingwa hobbled off with just over twenty minutes remaining, Ancelotti making a peculiar decision in replacing him with Ivanovic. Chasing a goal, perhaps Belletti would have been a better option.
Again, Friedel was in fine form, denying Nicolas Anelka one on one, moments after Dunne headed wide another Young corner. This was followed by a glaring miss from John Carew, not cleanly connecting with a cross from the very impressive James Milner, the chance going begging from six yards out.
Joe Cole’s introduction was too little too late for Chelsea, as Villa comfortably held on to their lead and the three points that came with it. For Carlo Ancelotti, set pieces are turning into a real issue and one that must be ironed out ahead of the Champions League match coming up, against Atletico Madrid.
Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Cech; Bosingwa (Ivanovic 68), Carvalho, Terry (c), A Cole; Essien, Lampard, Malouda (J Cole 84); Deco, Anelka; Drogba.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuéllar, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Milner, Petrov (c), Sidwell, A Young; Agbonlahor, Carew (Heskey 82).
Manager Martin O’Neill.
Referee Kevin Friend.