Frank Lampard 181st goal proved the master of being in the right place at the right time once again today as Chelsea survived a second-half scare to beat Sunderland in the Premier League. Lampard scored for the third successive match since his latest recall, although he knew little about a goal which owed everything to a superb Fernando Torres volley that smashed against the crossbar and back off his team-mate.Torres also saw two strong penalty claims turned down in what was one of his best displays in a Chelsea shirt, Nicklas Bendtner had one rejected at the other end and James McClean missed an open goal that might have snatched a point for the visitors. Indeed, the watching Gary Cahill would have fancied his chances of breaking into the Chelsea defence when he finally completes his protracted move from Bolton as the hosts somehow kept a rare clean sheet. That cut the gap to leaders Manchester City to eight points, while providing a setback for the Sunderland revival under Martin O’Neill.
Without Didier Drogba for the first time in the league and with Daniel Sturrdge still sidelined, The Blues opted for Fernando Torres up front, and while the Spaniard failed to end his 15-match goal drought, he did play a part in thedecisive goal of the afternoon.
Sunderland were first to threaten, with Stephane Sessegnon running through non-existent tackling before Jose Bosingwa prevented McClean tapping home in the fourth minute. The much-criticised David Luiz was then booked for his latest silly challenge, on Bendtner. Juan Mata’s deep cross picked out the forward, whose acrobatic bicycle volley cannoned off the bar only for the rebound to hit Lampard and hand Chelsea the lead. That was Lampard’s 11th goal of the season making him Chelsea’s top scorer. A fine multi-player build-up by the Blues on 30 minutes saw Torres, who started it, almost finish it off with a header but the ball, past Mignolet, was hacked off the line John OShea. Torres, desperate to add to his paltry five goal return since his 50m move from Liverpool, was unlucky with his first-time turn and shot, from the edge of the area, like Bendtners before, the ball inched wide of goal. Torres was convinced he should have had a penalty after going down under John O’Shea’s challenge and Bendtner thought the same at the other end seconds later after being bundled over by Cole but referee Phil Dowd disagreed on both counts. Chelsea should have doubled their lead on 56 minutes when a Lampard inspired move resulted in Ashley Cole sending in a trademark byline cross which Mignolet fumbled, Ramires failed to tuck home from close range. Referee Philip Dowd then refused a penalty apiece two minutes later when first Torres appeared to be upended by Turn and then Cole bundled over Bendtner. Sunderland missed a gilt-edged chance on 62 minutes, when James McClean miscued his volley when the Chelsea goal was gaping following Sebastian Larssons run which had cut Chelsea’s rearguard to shreds. Michael Essien entered the fray for the Blues on 73 minutes replacing Lampard. It was the first time Ghana midfielder Essien had put on a Blue shirt since he injured his knee in the first training session of this season where he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament. A sublime chip from 20 yards by Raul Meireles with four minutes remaining saw Mignolet tip the effort over the bar as the blues tried to seal victory. Yet it was the visitors who really should have scored on 90 minutes when Sessegnon, again the architect on the right, setting up sub Craig Gardener, who sliced his right-footer just wide of Cech’s left post. A rejuvenated Sunderland, who had lost just once since the appointment of Martin O’Neill, had several chances to level proceedings, but lacked a cutting edge when required. The visitors’ best chance fell the way of Nicklas Bendtner, whose swept his effort over the bar after been played clean through in stoppage time.
The win helps tightens Chelsea’s grip on fourth spot in the Premier League, while the return of Michael Essien following a summer knee injury will give Andre Villas-Boas reason to believe and some faith that the second half of the campaign can be more fruitful than the first.
Booked : Luiz(9′), Torres(66′), Meireles(73′)
Man of the match: Torres
Match rating: 7.5/10.
Possession: Chelsea 60% Sunderland 40%
Attempts (on target): Chelsea 25(7) Sunderland 9(3)
Referee: Philip Dowd
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