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Chelsea vs Stoke City
 1 - 0 
Date: 
Sat Mar 10 15:00:00 GMT 2012
Venue: 
Stamford Bridge
Attendance: 
40945
Referee: 
Andre Marriner

A BRAVE and battling Stoke City side were eventually put to the sword by Chelsea in the capital... as Didier Drogba's 100th top flight strike ultimately secured all three points for the hosts.

The Potters, who played over an hour of the encounter with just ten men following Ricardo Fuller's sending off, looked to be on course for their first ever Premier League point at Stamford Bridge until the Ivorian showed his class with 20 minutes remaining.

Ahead of the game Tony Pulis was dealt several blows as a bout of illness deprived him of the services of Glenn Whelan, whilst last weekend's match winner Matthew Etherington failed to shrug off a knock in time to feature.

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Their absences paved the way for the likes of Kenwyne Jones and Salif Diao to return to the starting line-up, and the City boss chose to start Fuller at the expense of leading goalscorer Peter Crouch.

Andy Wilkinson battles for the ball with Salomon Kalou. ACTION IMAGES

The recent dismissal of Andres Villas Boass had drawn a mixed response from the Chelsea supporters, but there was no doubt that they were united in backing caretaker boss Roberto Di Matteo in what was his first game in charge on home turf.

A superb atmosphere swept around the sun-basked Bridge as the two sides entered the field, and it remained that way during the early exchanges as they did their utmost to inspire their side into an early lead.

As expected, the hosts pressed forward at every opportunity with the recalled Drogba causing a nuisance of himself inside the Potters penalty area.

Jon Walters takes on Gary Cahill. ACTION IMAGES

Despite the Ivorian spearheading a four man attack, it was infact the more defensive pairing of Gary Cahill and Branoslav Ivanovic who had the first two opportunities of the encounter.

Firstly, Ivanovic rose unchallenged 8-yards out and planted a Frank Lampard centre over the bar, moments before former Bolton star Cahill forced Asmir Begovic into a superb save down to his right with a rasping effort from the edge of the box.

Stoke flexed their muscles on occasions however, and could have been ahead had Walters managed to compose himself after a defensive mix-up gifted him a sight at goal fifteen minutes in.

Kenwyne Jones is bundled over by Gary Cahill. ACTION IMAGES

Trinidad and Tobago skipper Jones then attempted an ambitious bicycle kick after Ryan Shotton had delivered a delightful ball across goal, though he unfortunately just couldn't make the required contact to cause Petr Cech any kind of problem.

Whilst Chelsea failed to produce the fluency which had seen them record four straight victories against Pulis' side here in London, they did look the more dominant side during the first half, especially after Ricardo Fuller was dismissed for an irrisponsible stamp on Ivanovic.

Referee Andre Marriner had no option than to send the Jamaican off for violent conduct, something Di Matteo responded to immediately by introducing the more attack minded Juan Mata at the expense of Raul Mereiles.

Ricardo Fuller is sent off by referee Andre Marriner. ACTION IMAGES

His introduction did provide the Blues' with another weapon in their armoury, but to Stoke's credit they continued to frustrate Chelsea, with Shawcross and Huth continuing to keep the opposition at bay.

The hosts remained persistent though and twice went agonisingly close to forging a breakthrough toward the end of half, but on both occasions the woodwork denied them.

Firstly, John Terry, who was making his first start in two months following an injury watched as his goalbound header bounced up and away via the crossbar, whilst Ivanovic suffered the same fate with a powerful drive from 15-yards just five minutes later.

Wilson Palacios closes down Frank Lampard. ACTION IMAGES

The start of the second period brought with it two changes for the visitors with both Diao and Marc Wilson being replaced by Hondruan international Wilson Palacios and former Arsenal defender Matthew Upson.

Chelsea continued to play with the wind in their sales but similarly to the first half, they struggled to breakthrough a dogged and determined Stoke backline.

In fact, for the first 20 minutes of the second period they were restricted to just one effort at goal; it was however one which would have delivered the crucial breakthrough had Bosnian ace Begovic not produced a world class save to thwart Drogba's ferocious free-kick.

At the other end Walters flashed an effort across goal, before Shawcross acrobatically put the ball across the danger zone, though luckily for the hosts the ball somehow managed to evade a packed out penalty box.

Didier Drogba attempts to hold off Matthew Upson. ACTION IMAGES

Just as sounds of desperation and mumblings started to be heard amongst the majority of the 40,000 plus supporters inside the stadium, Drogba beat the offside trap, rounded Begovic and calmly tapped into an empty net to deliver what proved to be the games defining moment.

Pulis responded by thrusting Cameron Jerome on to the field, and it very nearly paid dividends as he latched on to Shawcross' long punt forward, eased past Terry and fired a powerful effort just wide of the post with Cech undoubtedly beaten.

Minutes earlier, Andy Wilkinson had attempted to spectacularly break his deadlock for the Club with an effort from his own half which had very nearly caught Cech napping in his own penalty box.

For all of Stoke's endeavour and belief, Chelsea finished the game the stronger of the side's and could have doubled their advantage had substitute Daniel Sturridge managed to hit the target after twisting and turning 20-yards out.

stokecityfc.com wish to apologise for the disrupted coverage of our usual matchday minute-to-minute facility. This was due to technical issues beyond our control at Stamford Bridge.

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Robert Huth can only look on as Didier Drogba rounds Asmir Begovic to score for Chelsea. ACTION IMAGES
Didier Drogba's 100th Premier League goal inflicts defeat on ten man Stoke at Stamford Bridge...
 Match Information
 
  Chelsea Stoke
Goals : 1 0
Possession : 66% 34%
Shots On Target : 11 3
Shots Off Target : 10 5
Corners : 14 1
Fouls : 12 15
Most Fouls : Drogba (3) Shotton (3)
Yellow Cards : 1 2
 
Red Cards :
Fuller 25
 
Scorers :
Drogba 68
 
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