A rare Andriy Shevchenko goal and a not-so-rare Frank Lampard penalty was enough to give Chelsea a comfortable 2-0 win over Roy Keane’s Sunderland side, and ergo extend our unbeaten run of matches to 15.
Shaun Wright-Phillips was preferred to Steve Sidwell as the third member of the Chelsea midfield, with Michael Essien still out suspended. Up front, in the wake of the news of Drogba’s knee operation, Andriy Shevchenko started, with Joe Cole and Salomon Kalou as the wide forwards. Ashley Cole was chosen over Wayne Bridge at left back, and again Carlo Cudicini deputised between the sticks.
Sunderland left old mates Dwight Yorke and Andrew Cole on the bench, opting to play one up front, the chosen one being Kenwyne Jones. In goal, Darren Ward was again preferred to multi-million pound singing Craig Gordon, who was being “rested.”
Chelsea dominated the match from the outset, with Wright-Phillips having a crack inside the first minute. Then, from two consecutive corners, John Terry and Salomon Kalou attempted headers at goal, the latter crashing back off the crossbar. Just five minutes had been played and Chelsea were hunting for an opener.
Wright-Phillips had a decent shout for a penalty turned down; before Chelsea finally cracked open the defence to take the lead after 23 minutes.
Kalou held the ball on the left hand side of the penalty area, and with the defenders ball watching, he lifted a beautifully weighted cross to the back post where Shevchenko had peeled off his marker to find space. The Ukrainian threw his body at the ball to execute the diving header from five yards and it flew past Ward, giving the Sunderland keeper no chance.
Belletti and Lampard both took shots from long range, the former hit with venom straight at Ward, the latter going high and wide. Then, Sunderland tested Cudicini for the first time in the Chelsea goal as Kenwyne Jones struck at goal from 20 yards out, however the Italian goalkeeper easily gathered.
Shevchenko was involved in the final two attempts of the half, the first a header deflected out for a corner and the second an ambitious volley that flew way over. Chelsea took a 1-0 lead into the break, fully deserved after their dominance of the first 45 minutes.
The second half opened with another Chelsea attack, last week’s match winner Joe Cole firing in a low cross that nobody could apply the finishing touch to. Jones shot way over for Sunderland, before Avram Grant made his first change of the game, replacing Kalou with Pizarro, and changing to a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the Peruvian in the hole behind Shevchenko. Keane also made a sub, Murphy replacing Jones. Four minutes later, Stokes replaced Leadbitter in another straight swap.
Cudicini’s next save was another simple one, easily catching Halford’s effort on 71 minutes. Four minutes later, Chelsea had the opportunity to put the game to bed, after Alex was fouled by the veteran Danny Higginbotham in the penalty area.
Lampard stepped up to the spot and with Ward diving to his right, the Chelsea vice captain smashed his penalty Ward’s bottom left hand corner, to wrap up the three points.
Murphy launched a shot across the face of goal as Sunderland attempted to get something from the game, but in the final ten minutes any hopes were quashed by the petulance of Miller, who was sent off for shoving Pizarro in the face. Sidwell replaced Joe Cole as Chelsea shut up shop. It was nearly 3-0 at the end, but Ward made a brilliant save to deny Lampard his second of the evening.
The match ended with another three points in the bag, and Sunderland with some big names as their unused subs. Andrew Cole, Dwight Yorke and Craig Gordon all sat out the match at Stamford Bridge, and one can only wonder if the result would have been affected had any, or all of them, had the chance to affect the match. Avram Grant won’t be worried, however, as the Chelsea roll continues. With Arsenal’s defeat by Middlesbrough, Chelsea are just three points off the top of the table, and breathing down the necks of our great rivals in red, Manchester United.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cudicini; Belletti, Alex, Terry (c), A Cole; Wright-Phillips, Mikel, Lampard; Kalou (Pizarro 66), Shevchenko, J Cole (Sidwell 85).
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Ward; Halford, McShane, Higginbotham, Collins; Miller, Etuhu, Whitehead, Wallace; Leadbitter (Stokes 70); Jones (Murphy 66).
Referee Peter Walton.