Premier League - Clinical Chelsea thrash Bolton
Chelsea gave their ailing Premier League title hopes a boost with a 4-0 win over Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium.
A stunning Didier Drogba strike from long range gave the champions the lead, with Florent Malouda doubling the lead just before half-time to see the Blues register their first away win since October. Nicolas Anelka and Ramires both scored after the break to make the scoreline a repeat of that from the corresponding fixture last season.
Carlo Ancelotti's team has kept just about in touch with the other championship contenders. They are now seven points behind leaders Manchester United having played a game more, and have opened up a three-point gap from fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Bolton, now without a win since Boxing Day, missed out on the opportunity to move back above local rivals Blackburn Rovers and up into seventh place, and in fact their hunt for a Europa League spot took a knock as they dropped one place in the table to 10th, below Stoke City on goal difference.
The pre-match build-up at the Reebok Stadium was given a poignant air as tributes were paid to Bolton and England legend Nat Lofthouse, who died on January 16.
Spurred on by the images of their erstwhile centre forward, manager and club president, Bolton made a spirited start to the game as they sought to end their run of eight straight home defeats against Chelsea, without scoring a single goal in that sequence to boot.
However, after enjoying plenty of the early possession and denying the visitors' front three the ball, they fell behind to a rocket of a strike from Drogba.
The Ivorian was given a criminal amount of time and space by Bolton's defence to turn and line up his strike, but he was still more than 30 yards from goal when he unleashed a ferocious swerving shot that left Jaaskelainen helpless.
Having bagged his 10th goal of the season, Drogba was denied his 11th when his first-time strike on the turn was stopped at the near post by Jaaskelainen.
Bolton occasionally carried their own threat, and after the intermittently impressive Zat Knight made a decent sliding block to deny Anelka on the half-hour mark, Bolton's counter ended with Petr Cech tipping Matt Taylor's glancing header round the post at full stretch.
However, as is virtually always the case at the Reebok, Chelsea proved irresistible and the second goal duly arrived on 41 minutes. John Obi Mikel's cross came to Malouda at the far post, and the Frenchman wriggled into position before firing a low strike through a crowded six-yard box from a tight angle.
The Blues emerged from the break in the sort of businesslike manner that is so often their hallmark and Anelka completed a clean sweep for Chelsea's attacking triumvirate 10 minutes into the second half.
Michael Essien pulled the ball back to Drogba from the byline. Knight managed to intercept that pass but the ball ran back to Anelka, who clinically dispatched into the bottom corner for his 13th of the season against his old club.
Bolton boss Owen Coyle introduced Mark Davies and Rodrigo Moreno in order to inject some impetus into his team, and the former substitute certainly provided it with a number of direct surges forward.
However, he was unable to provide enough to see Cech beaten and when Ramires put the visitors four goals to the good 15 minutes from time, Essien again doing the damage at the byline, it was enough to see even the spirited heads of Bolton drop.
That fourth goal was Ramires's first for Chelsea, and his team-mates celebrated it more than any other strike all evening.
After all the reports of discontent within the Chelsea ranks, the result could yet spark a charge up the table and challenge for the title.