Chelsea 1 Bolton 0: Anelka on target against former club as Blues go four points clear at top

By Matt Barlow for the Daily Mail

Not quite as easy as Sir Alex Ferguson had tried to make out - not by a long way. But Carlo Ancelotti was able to arch an eyebrow in quiet satisfaction as he inched closer to the title in his first season.

Nicolas Anelka scored the only goal as Ancelotti survived his first mind games with Sir Alex and moved clear at the top.Ten more points will secure the title, fewer if Arsenal slip at Tottenham on Wednesday night.

Excitement bubbles at Stamford Bridge but this was far from routine. There were scares, notably two penalty appeals for handball, 'stonewallers' in the eyes of Owen Coyle.

Nicolas Anelka

Top man: Nicolas Anelka celebrates after scoring the winning goal for Chelsea

The first was against Didier Drogba and then a more obvious one against John Terry which prompted Coyle and his coaching team to leap from the bench in unison.

Referee Lee Probert, a late replacement for Chris Foy - selected for the FA Cup final and unable to take charge of Chelsea or Portsmouth games before next month's Wembley date - remained unmoved.

There was defensive panic, a header missed by Johan Elmander after he eluded Terry and a sliced clearance by Didier Drogba which allowed Ivan Klasnic a late chance which he dragged wide.

Heads, you win: Anelka scores his first goal in 14 games as Chelsea beat Bolton

Heads, you win: Anelka scores his first goal in 14 games as Chelsea beat Bolton

There were cuts and bruises, generally distributed by ramrod striker Kevin Davies, who cut Yuri Zhirkov in a clash of heads and left John Mikel Obi in such apparent agony on the halfway line that it was a miracle he sprang to his feet to play on.

When Joe Cole picked up the ball on the right, three minutes into added time, Ancelotti was pointing him furiously towards the corner flag. Forget entertainment, waste time and win. When Cole jinked inside, looking to thread a pass to Florent Malouda, and lost possession, the manager threw up his arms in exasperation.

Thats Handy JT.jpg

They may not be the slick machine they were when they last won the title four years ago but Chelsea's veterans are battle-hardened and they retain enough of their old resilience and desire for a domestic arm-wrestle like this.

Bolton boss Coyle had done his homework. Fabrice Muamba and Sam Ricketts were deployed as midfield markers, sticking tight to Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack respectively in an effort to choke Chelsea and allow Jack Wilshere to push forward in support of lone striker Davies.

For 44 minutes, the plan went well. Chelsea were limited going forward to a couple of Drogba free-kicks, one of which was parried by Jussi Jaaskelainen straight on to the head of Salomon Kalou and then looped just wide.

At the back, the home team were forced to defend bravely. Petr Cech fumbled a low cross from Chung-Yong Lee under pressure from Matt Taylor but dived among the boots to smother it. Zhirkov needed treatment for a nasty cut after a clash of heads with Davies.

The Russian was bandaged and sent back on but the bleeding did not stop and he needed more treatment before half-time, which saw Lampard fill in as an emergency full back.

Strangely, the blow had a positive effect on Zhirkov, who came back out with his head stitched to play a key role in Anelka's goal, which eased the nerves around Stamford Bridge just before the interval.

Having spent most of the season looking like an £18million waste of money, the man dubbed the 'Russian Ronaldinho' in his homeland, produced an outstanding performance at left back.

Angry: Owen Coyle felt Bolton should have been awarded two penalties

Angry: Owen Coyle felt Bolton should have been awarded two penalties

Anxiety was rippling around the stadium when Zhirkov charged up the flank and cut inside. He stopped, turned and rolled a pass to Drogba on the left. Drogba delivered a wonderful cross with his left foot, which was headed in from close range by Anelka, pulling away from defenders Zat Knight and Gretar Steinsson.

It was his first since January and his first since Drogba returned to the team after the Africa Cup of Nations. It went some way towards answering questions about whether the two strikers can prosper in the same team.


CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cech 6; Ferreira 6, Alex 7, Terry 7, Zhirkov 8; Ballack 5, Mikel 6, Lampard 6; Kalou 5 (J Cole 77min), Drogba 7, Anelka 7 (Malouda 67, 6).
Booked: Alex.

BOLTON WANDERERS (4-4-1-1): Jaaskelainen 6; Steinsson 5, Cahill 5, Knight 6, Robinson 5; Lee 6 (Klasnic 82), Muamba 7, Ricketts 6, Taylor 6; Wilshere 7 (Elmander 82); K Davies 6.
Booked: Steinsson, Robinson, Davies, Elmander.

Man of the match: Yuri Zhirkov.

Referee: Lee Probert.

Chelsea went after a second. Kalou was put clean through by Drogba but was denied by Jaaskelainen's legs and another Kalou effort drifted over moments later. Lampard lashed a 20-yarder into the foot of a post and Terry fired a volley narrowly wide.

Joe Cole came on to set up Ballack for a header which he planted straight at the goalkeeper. Then Cole missed a sitter at the death.

Just as Stamford Bridge started to relax and songs about winning the title were contemplated, Chelsea became tense but Bolton could not find the net.

Defeat leaves Coyle with work to do before he can look back on a successful escape from relegation. As for the Blues, they could reflect on a victory against Bolton buoyed by superstition.

A win at the Reebok clinched their first Premier League title in 2005 and victory at the same venue the following season propelled them into a nine-point lead at the top as they defended their trophy.