Late Cole winner keeps Chelsea top of table

Premier League, Stamford Bridge – Chelsea 1 (Cole 85), Stoke City 0

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Chelsea celebrate Ashley Cole's winner against Stoke, September 2012

Chelsea left it late before sealing a hard-fought 1-0 against Stoke City at Stamford Bridge that keeps them top of the Premier League table.

A week after their stalemate away to local rivals Queens Park Rangers and their 2-2 Champions League draw at home to Juventus in midweek, the Blues looked destined for a third straight draw before Ashley Cole popped up with the winner with just four minutes remaining.

Left-back Cole scored his first goal for Chelsea since May 2010 by rounding off an aesthetically-pleasing team move.

After beginning the season with four straight draws, Stoke suffered their first defeat of the new campaign. The Potters are now without a win in their last 12 games, since a 2-1 win over Wolves on April 7.

The win puts Chelsea three points clear at the top of the table, ensuring they will finish the weekend as league leaders. Stoke remain in the bottom half with four points from five games.

Following his stunning goal as part of his brace against Juventus, Brazilian midfielder Oscar was given his first Premier League start by manager Roberto Di Matteo.

The club's two most senior players – club captain John Terry and vice-captain Frank Lampard – who named on the bench following their European exertions, with Gary Cahill and Juan Mata coming in.

The tone was set early on as Mata and Eden Hazard orchestrated plenty of possession in the Stoke half, but the visitors stayed resolute and kept the corner count steadily rising but the scoreboard unchanged.

Fernando Torres rose to meet one of those corners seven minutes in but the Spaniard – who has now scored just once in seven Premier League matches against Stoke – sent his header over the bar.

On the one occasion Chelsea played their way through, Torres took Mata's chipped pass nicely on his chest but swung at thin air as he tried to finish past goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.

Branislav Ivanovic was fortunate to escape a booking from referee Michael Oliver for a shameless dive in the area midway through the first half, while Charlie Adam was not so lucky moments later when he clumsily manhandled Ramires.

Robert Huth avoided the same fate when Oscar cheekily turned and nutmegged him with one slick touch and pivot. The German defender did not take kindly to such finesse and hauled the young Brazilian back.

Stoke only had five shots to Chelsea's 12 in the first half, but they had the two best chances to break the deadlock.

Jonathan Walters headed an excellent free-kick delivery from Glenn Whelan against the bar before Marc Wilson's thundering strike across the area was guided on target by Michael Kightly only for Petr Cech to make a good reaction save low to his left.

In the second half Oscar showed a propensity for acting that will have headline writers rubbing their hands with glee when he was booked for a theatrical dive in search of a penalty.

Soon afterwards, however, he gave a reminder of his ability with the ball when he almost recreated his strike against Juve, taking his marker out of the game with a swift turn before arrowing a low strike just wide.

Michael Owen came off the bench for his second Stoke appearance, but he was mainly deployed as an extra body in midfield. Peter Crouch came closest to scoring for Stoke in the second half but he couldn't reach a corner whipped across the six-yard box with an outstretched leg.

Crouch was later replaced by Kenwyne Jones, who teed up fellow substitute Matthew Etherington for a strike but the winger fired wide.

With time running out and club owner Roman Abramovich looking distinctly unimpressed, Di Matteo brought on Lampard and the veteran soon made his presence felt. Lampard played an early part in an attack which became a one-touch move, culminating in Juan Mata casually backheeling into Cole's path and Begovic couldn't keep the England defender's close-range finish out.

Chelsea centre-back David Luiz was perhaps fortunate to avoid a red card in stoppage time for his lunging tackle on Walters as the striker attempted to launch a counter-attack. The melee that ensued helped kill any late momentum Stoke were trying to build as their search for an equaliser ended in vain.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Juan Mata (Chelsea) – With all the fuss over Chelsea's summer signings, Mata gave a reminder of why he was the club's player of the year last season with a performance full of creativity, culminating in his assist for the winner.

PLAYER RATINGS

CHELSEA: Cech 6, Ivanovic 6, Cahill 6, David Luiz 5, Cole 6, Oscar 6, Ramires 6, Mikel 7, Mata 8, Hazard 6, Torres 6. Subs: Moses 6, Lampard N/A, Terry N/A.

STOKE CITY: Begovic 7, Huth 6, Shawcross 7, Cameron 6, Wilson 6, Adam 6, N'Zonzi 6, Kightly 6, Whelan 6, Walters 7, Crouch 6. Subs: Owen 5, Etherington 6, Jones 6.

MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND STATS

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