Chelsea overcame a resurgent Sunderland side to take three points in a nervy match in which the visitors had several glorious chances to continue Martin O’Neill’s impressive run since taking over from Steve Bruce. Five wins from seven acted as great motivation for Sunderland, who constantly pushed and pushed, but Chelsea managed to hold on to the early goal and saw out the match in front of a strong home crowd, maintaining the Blue’s 100% win record in 2012.
Daniel Sturridge was only passed fit for the bench, so Ramires continued in an unfamiliar right-wing position, a role, however, which he has all the attributes for. The big headline was Essien being passed fit for the bench, with the likes of Hutchinson and Bertrand joining him, with the defence the same for the third match running.
Characteristically, Chelsea started sloppily. Within three minutes, Stephane Sessegnon drove down the right-hand side, and had James McClean got a firmer touch, it would have been a disastrous start for the home side. The pressure kept coming from the Wearsiders. Larsson was next to test Cech with a typically stunning free-kick, but the big Czech stopper fisted it out of harm’s reach.
But signs of things to come came with a Torres header that floated agonisingly wide from a Cole cross. Mata crossed three minutes later from the right flank, and Fernando Torres hit a stunning, acrobatic, mid-flight volley, which, summing up his luck, cannoned off the crossbar. Right place at the right time was Frank Lampard, the ball ricocheted off his leg to make it 1-0 to the Chels.
The match continued to offer goals, Ramires put in a typically energetic shift, and Mata tested Mignolet with a free-kick, which had the keeper diving at full stretch to keep it out.
The second half continued with the same calculated drive from both sides. Torres had a chance, Mata mis-kicked a volley and Ramires could not divert a ball goalwards at full stretch. Penalty appeals were aplenty – first Torres appeared to have been taken down by O’Shea, but the ball rolled to Mata, who in turn was taken down. Neither was convincing enough for Phil Dowd.
Sunderland had an appeal of their own, Ashley Cole allegedly pushed Bendtner, but contact looked minimal, vindicating Dowd’s decision to wave play-on in this circumstance. Torres then went down himself in another chance in the box, having wormed his way past two defenders. The latter – Phil Bardsley – did seem to catch Torres on the knee, but Torres was booked for simulation instead, much to his delight.
Approaching the final fifteen minutes came the moment all Chelsea fans had been waiting for since July: the return of the Bison. He came on, with goal-scorer Frank Lampard making way, to shore up the last few nervy moments alongside Oriol Romeu.
Sunderland sensed blood, and, as Martin O’Neill would have been telling them, they never gave up. Cech had to do well to collect a corner, but then came two glorious chances for Sunderland. Craig Gardner missed a sitter from six yards, and Bendtner, so often one to talk himself up, clipped a ball past Cech, but also past the post. Chelsea clung on – three vital points with Tottenham being held by Wolves, but as for Sunderland, the resurgent was temporarily put on hold.
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