Premier League - Malouda gives Chelsea victory
Wed, 29 Dec 21:37:00 2010
Chelsea finally arrested their wretched run of recent form in the Premier League with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Bolton courtesy of Florent Malouda's 61st minute goal at Stamford Bridge.
The champions' slump had descended into a full-blown crisis after embarking on their worst run since 1998 by dropping 18 points in their last eight games, and the hosts were left frustrated after a dominant, yet fruitless, first half.
But Malouda pounced just after the hour mark from Didier Drogba's cut back to separate the sides with a slick goal and a jubilant celebration to match and give Carlo Ancelotti's side their first win in seven league games.
Frank Lampard and Michael Essien joined forces in midfield, while the three-pronged attack of Malouda, Drogba and Nicolas Anelka was reunited after the Frenchman passed a late fitness test.
Chelsea enjoyed 67 per cent of the possession in the first half, but it was Bolton who created the two most notable clear-cut chances midway through as Johan Elmander wreaked havoc with his physical presence inside the hosts' box.
The Swede powered his way to the right byline in the 22nd minute, before Matt Taylor dragged a tame shot wide of the far post after latching on to the forward's deep delivery.
Four minutes later, Ivanovic was booked for a cynical tug as he hauled down Elmander with the striker haring through on goal, and only the appearance of John Terry, desperately backtracking, spared his team mate a red card.
The hosts should have broken the deadlock four minutes after the restart, as Lampard pierced the Bolton defence with an incisive through ball, but Drogba's low shot rebounded off the far post with Jussi Jaaskelainen comprehensively beaten.
But Chelsea did go in front just after the hour mark as Drogba beat the offside trap with a defence-splitting run down the right, and he squared the ball to the onrushing Malouda, who slid the ball home before wheeling away in a deranged celebration.
Owen Coyle was among the disgruntled Bolton camp to demonstrate his disgust with what was a marginal offside decision involving Drogba and Malouda, but referee Mike Jones awarded what proved to be the decisive goal.
Bolton could have levelled three minutes later as Elmander surged down the right and cut the ball back for Sam Ricketts, but the defender was an unfortunate recipient of the pass from the visitors' perspective as he blasted the ball over the bar from inside the Chelsea box.
The visitors then felt they had won a penalty in the 67th minute and were left aggrieved as Stuart Holden drilled a ferocious shot against Terry's arm from the edge of the penalty box, but referee Jones waved play on.
Chelsea might have doubled their lead nine minutes from time, but for Fabrice Muamba being on hand to clear off the line with a desperate lunge after Essien's header looked destined for the back of the net having beaten Petr Cech's dive.
The hosts held on for their slender victory to claim a crucial three points and get their title challenge back on track, leapfrogging Tottenham back into fourth spot, with Arsenal's 2-2 draw at Wigan adding to a fine evening for Ancelotti and his side.