Chelsea 1 Stoke 0: Cole rides to the rescue for misfiring Blues with late winner
16:49 GMT, 22 September 2012
Ashley Cole spared the blushes of Chelsea's 130million attack as the European champions spluttered to victory against Stoke to go three points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
Roman Abramovich looked on as the Blues unleashed the 80m trio of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata for the first time behind 50m man Fernando Torres.
But the quartet were nowhere near being the 'Barcelona in blue shirts' the club's billionaire owner craves until the 85th minute, when Cole finished a brilliant move to snatch a barely-deserved win.
Ash and grab: The England ace scored the winning goal with just five minutes remaining at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole, Mikel (Lampard 81), Oscar, Ramires, Mata (Terry 88), Hazard (Moses 61), Torres.
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Romeu, Azpilicueta, Bertrand.
Booked: Oscar, Luiz.
Goals: Cole 85.
Stoke: Begovic, Huth, Shawcross, Cameron, Wilson, Kightly (Etherington 71), Adam (Owen 64), Whelan, Nzonzi, Walters, Crouch (Jones 75).
Subs Not Used: Sorensen, Whitehead, Upson, Shotton.
Ref: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).
It could easily have been a fourth
straight match without a victory for Chelsea as Torres flopped once
again and Jonathan Walters hit the crossbar for Stoke, who arguably had
the better of the chances.
That would have cranked up the
pressure on Blues boss Roberto Di Matteo, who shrugged off Thursday's
visit of Abramovich to the club's training ground the morning after the
club's opening Champions League game against Juventus.
After his gamble at picking Oscar in
that 2-2 draw paid off spectacularly, Di Matteo was emboldened enough to
leave out both John Terry and Frank Lampard.
But despite Chelsea enjoying more of
the ball, Torres, Hazard, Oscar and Mata played like the strangers they
were for most of the afternoon.
Torres did nod a Mata corner over the
top but, otherwise, the Champions League winners were guilty of taking
too many touches, making one pass too many and allowing Stoke to
Knee-sy does it: Cole celebrates after scoring the winning goal at Stamford Bridge
Chance: But misfiring Torres sees his shot saved by Stoke stopper Begovic
The visitors should have made them
pay in the 20th minute when an unmarked Walters thumped a header from
Glenn Whelan's free-kick against the crossbar.
Branislav Ivanovic was lucky to avoid
a yellow card for a shameful dive in the box but no referee could have
failed to book Charlie Adam for rugby-tackling Ramires.
Winner: Ashley Cole slides on his knees after netting for the Blues
Fury: Crouch reacts to a decision made by the match officials
Torres is rarely upstaged when it
comes to embarrassing moments and he duly added another to his
collection with an air-shot after Mata's wonderful dink put him
one-on-one with Asmir Begovic.
At the other end, Michael Kightly
almost redirected Geoff Cameron's fizzing cross past Petr Cech, while
Chelsea's half was summed up when David Luiz smashed a wild shot high
into the Shed End.
In action: Michael Owen replaced Charlie Adam just after the hour mark
The home side were not exactly booed off at the break but a flat atmosphere certainly greeted them after the restart.
That changed when Chelsea were denied
the latest in a catalogue of recent penalty claims when Oscar went down
under Ryan Shawcross' challenge. It may not have been a spot-kick but
did not deserve the acting award that followed – a booking.
Watching on: Roman Abramovich will be pleased after seeing Chelsea beat Stoke
That sparked Chelsea and Oscar to
life and the Brazilian tested Begovic with a low shot before Mata blazed
wide following a defensive mix-up.
Stoke settled and Peter Crouch,
Walters and Adam all had sighters before Di Matteo withdrew Hazard for
Victor Moses just past the hour mark.
The Potters responded by sending on
Michael Owen for Adam but Chelsea almost cut them open when Mata was
thwarted by a brilliant Shawcross tackle.
Losing control: Jonathan Walters is held back by John Terry as tempers flare
Oscar was becoming more and more of a
threat and his deflected grass-cutter was well saved by Begovic before
he sent another mid-range shot narrowly wide.
Matthew Etherington replaced Kightly
and Cameron Jerome came on for Crouch as Stoke sensed more than a draw.
Etherington dragged wide after John Obi Mikel, of all people, should
have done better than squander what was a fine pass by Torres.
Mikel departed for Lampard for the
final nine minutes and, four minutes later, Chelsea finally had the
breakthrough. It was the first piece of Barcelona-esque football of the
entire afternoon as some lovely build-up ended when Mata's delightful
back-heel found Cole, who lifted the ball beyond Begovic.
A brilliant last-ditch Etherington
tackle prevented Moses having a chance to make it 2-0 on the break.
Terry came on for Mata and a late Luiz tackle on Walters ensured the
game ended with some bad blood between the sides, with Etherington also
involved in a minor altercation with Ivanovic before the final whistle.