Chelsea have hauled themselves to within three points of league leaders Manchester United after coming from behind to beat arch-rivals Tottenham 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.
The away side had taken an early lead through Sandro, but controversial goals from Frank Lampard just before half-time and then a last-gasp winner from Salomon Kalou gave Chelsea a deserved victory on Saturday evening.
Carlo Ancelotti chose to start with Fernando Torres following his first goal for Chelsea last week against West Ham, and paired him with an in-form Didier Drogba. John Terry was making his 500th Chelsea appearance.
Chelsea, buoyed by the fantastic atmosphere at Stamford Bridge, started brightly in a fast-paced game with shots from Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, and a superb 35-yard free-kick from Drogba all saved well by Huerelho Gomes.
In spite of this early pressure from the Blues it was the away side who took the lead on 19 minutes when Sandro, teed up by Rafael van der Vaart, struck a sweet shot into the top left-hand corner of the goal.
The goal was a disappointment but did not really interrupt Chelsea’s flow with an Essien header forcing Gomes into a particularly good save soon afterwards. In spite of the pressure the Blues had to wait until the 45th minute to equalise through Lampard.
Lampard struck well from 35 yards but it should have been a comfortable save for Gomes. Instead he let it roll through his legs and (not quite) into the back of the net. The officials awarded a goal but television camera footage suggests that the whole of the ball had not crossed the whole of the line. Spurs were livid, but in truth the goal was very much deserved for the home-side.
With the teams chasing their Manchester rivals – both of whom play tomorrow – the second-half started in a purposeful manner for what was sure to be a season-defining 45 minutes for at least one of the sides.
Although both were having plenty of possession in each other’s halves, Petr Cech was having a surprisingly quiet afternoon – the Tottenham goal was their only shot on target. At the other end Gomes – who had received a round of applause from the Chelsea support after emerging from the tunnel for the second-half – was playing satisfactorily, saving shots from both Drogba and Malouda.
As the hour-mark loomed tension was high and the game had become notably scrappy with neither side really looked likely to score.
Both managers responded to this period by making changes with Harry Redknapp bringing off an ineffective Roman Pavyluchenko for Jermaine Defoe (who proved to be ineffective), whilst Ancelotti injected some extra energy into the team by bringing Ramires on for Michael Essien, and soon afterwards introduced Kalou in place of Torres.
Kalou had a half-chance moments after coming on when another impressive free-kick from Drogba was spilled into his path by Gomes, who, impressively, took over 15 minutes to make his first mistake of the half.
As the match wore on the Chelsea players were evidently becoming more agitated. Spurs, meanwhile, seemed to be satisfied with a point despite the fact it would leave Manchester City three points clear of them in fourth, with a game in hand.
The game looked destined for a frustrating draw which would surely end Chelsea’s hopes of retaining the title until the 89th minute. After good work from Ramires, a scrappy pass-shot from Drogba was gathered up and poked in from inside the six-yard box by Kalou to the joy of Stamford Bridge.
More controversy surrounded the Chelsea winner as Kalou appeared to be in an offside position, but once more, Chelsea didn’t care.
The home-side held out for the win after a nervy four minutes of stoppage-time and the final whistle was met with an eruption of relief and elation from the players and home supporters.
The result moves Chelsea to within three points of leaders Manchester United – cut down from 15 two months ago – who play third-placed Arsenal side at the Emirates later today. Tottenham, meanwhile, are four points behind Manchester City – who have a game in hand – with little hope of playing in the Champions League next season.