DELIGHT: Ashley Cole (left) celebrates his winner
A LATE goal from Ashley Cole spared Chelsea’s blushes as they overcame a solid Stoke side to remain top of the Premier League table.
Despite a bright start to the game the Blues were made to battle to very end in search for three points and ended up enduring a frustrating afternoon at Stamford Bridge.
With five minutes to play Juan Mata’s crafty back heel from six yards fell to the feet of the left-back who banged home a decisive winner.
Tony Pulis' men will feel hard done by not to have held on for a point. Drawing their opening four games of the season they appeared a side happy to take a fifth in the capital and were not far off from doing so.
With Ryan Shawcross and former Blue, Robert Huth, firm at the back, the visitors showed enough assurance to take the game to Chelsea, hitting their opponents on the counter attack on a number of occasions. Jonathan Walters proved to be a positive outlet bursting down the flanks to support Peter Crouch.
Domestically Chelsea had yet to be really tested however, they were given a thorough examination by Italian champions Juventus in midweek with a 2-2 draw in the Champions League.
The test to prove just how resilient this expansive Chelsea side can be, continued this afternoon and although this was not an A-grade display, the incentive to keep chippping away till the end got the job done.
Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo opted to leave both John Terry and Frank Lampard on the bench. Chelsea’s creative influences were in young hands, the dazzling trio of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Mata mixed it up their attacking play in the final third, in an attempt to provide Fernando Torres with the first class service the Spaniard cherishes. But not for the first time in blue shirt, Torres was simply not at the races.
Midway through the first half Mata’s chipped pass found Torres who had time and space to chest the ball down but he could not connect when one-on-one with City 'keeper Asmir Begovic.
Oscar again looked promising and found gaps to shoot on goal. The young Brazilian who enjoyed a sensational full debut on Wednesday, belies his slight build, and is a genuine playmaker in the true sense of the term; he constantly generated ideas and dictated the rhythm of the game.
But for all Chelsea’s silky play, it was Walters who went close to giving the visitors the lead when his header met the crossbar from Glenn Whelan’s free-kick.
The acquisition of Michael Owen has excited Stoke supporters and the former England hero, along with Kenwyne Jones, made an introduction in the second half.
Victor Moses was called into action on the hour mark for Chelsea and made a telling impact, linking well with Oscar. The winger’s pace caused problems and was the difference; it was his involvement in the attack which finally broke Stoke down.
In the end it was an unlikely source in Cole who was the saviour for Chelsea who keep the heat on their rivals at the top of the Premier League table. The performance not inspiring but the result remains imperative.