Chelsea put 2011 behind them and got 2012 off to a great start with three points in a fiesty encounter with Wolverhampton Wanderers. With three draws and a loss in the last four matches, AVB knew he needed to work up some wonders to get disillusioned Chelsea fans back on his side.
Having suffered a humiliating loss at the hands of Aston Villa only 48 hours ago, AVB once again rung the changes. Drogba did not make the bench, with Chelsea citing “calf and ankle injuries”. In-form Daniel Sturridge was also ruled out, allegedly with a “hip problem”. Fernando Torres stepped up into Drogba’s shoes, and it was uncharted territory for Ramires, who was the stand-in right-winger, with AVB refusing to budge on his 4-3-3 formation. Jose Bosingwa, often criticised for his hapless defensive displays, clearly showed enough in training to be rewarded a starting spot again, and Frank Lampard returned to start.
Chelsea actually started really very brightly. Wolves had the first chance when Bosingwa made a mistake, but bar that chance, it was all Chelsea for the first half hour. Mata had a great chance on eight minutes, when he was fed in with a lovely diagonal ball from Fernando Torres, who had a lively game. His delicate clip over Hennessey failed to find the back of the net though, with Wolves clearing, under pressure from Ramires.
In the thirteenth minute, Chelsea had another chance. Torres again fed through, this time to Lampard, but the vice-captain hesitated for half a second too long, and Stearman made a critical challenge, nullifying the power in Lampard’s shot, for Hennessey to collect calmly.
Ramires continued to find space down the right hand side, but, perhaps due to him being played out of position, he lacked the final ball and a few of his crosses were poor, a role which Sturridge, had he played, been able to do much more compotently.
Peter Walton was very card-shy to start, when three tackles in the opening ten minutes could have easily been bookable offences, but the referee, for the next eight minutes, turned card-happy, brandishing the yellow card five times. The first on Lampard was a lucky escape, as the England man was very high on Hammill and caught him on the ankle, but maybe the 33 year-old’s squeaky-clean reputation and immediate apology saved him from being given an early bath. The Wolves man retaliated just a minute after, fouling Torres, and he earned a yellow, much to the bemusement of Mick McCarthy.
Wolves continued to have chances, but the half fizzed out without any goals.
Matt Jarvis came on in the second half for Forde, an attacking move from Wolves, who clearly felt they had a chance at home against a generous Chelsea side in terms of conceding goals.
But it was Chelsea who had the breakthrough. Mata’s outswinger was delicately flicked on by Terry, and Ramires pirouetted around the Wolves defence, and rifled the ball into the roof of the net. Chelsea’s Portugese contingent led the celebrations, which included Andre Villas-Boas and all his technical staff, a clear show of unity in these difficult times.
Stephen Fletcher came on next for Wolves, though many Wolves fans were disappointed the in-form striker was not on from the start. Debutant Emmanuel Frimpong was sacrificed as Wolves tried to salvage something.
But still it was Chelsea’s to lose as the match neared the 70-minute mark. Torres continued his bright spell, and Ramires had bags of pace, something which must have convinced AVB to try him out in the right-wing role.
But Wolves found a way back in it, as so often happens. Bosingwa allowed Fletcher behind and the man pulled back for Ward to shoot home from twelve yards. The stadium erupted, but for AVB and his men, it looked like another case of so near yet so far.
But two minutes later, there was refound joy. Chelsea did not give us, as they have on so many occasions when they find they have been pegged back with minutes left on the clock. Instead, they let out their hurt by counter-attacking, and went back in from just three minutes later. Lampard passed to Torres, who cleverly found Ashley Cole down the left. Seeing that Frank Lampard had continued his run into the box, the English duo linked up and Frank Lampard, as so often in the past, volleyed home, much to AVB’s delight.
Three minutes were added and it was just a case of holding onto the ball for Chelsea. But Romeu dallied and Wolves attacked. With three minutes already added on the clock, Wolves sent in a Rory Delap-style throw into the box. Fletcher headed it goalwards, but were it not for a superb, reflex save from Petr Cech, it could have been a wholly different story, and instead of sitting at home gleefully on his day off tomorrow, AVB could well have found himself being on the wrong end of a call from Roman Abramovich tomorrow morning.
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