Ashley Cole’s first goal since May 2010 was enough to send the Blues back to winning ways as he scored late on to settle a keenly fought contest.
The left-back’s previous strike had been an icing-on-the-cake moment on the day we won the league by thumping Wigan. This time his effort made the difference between one point and all three and in the context of this season, it could have immense value.
As in previous home games this season, Roberto Di Matteo’s men produced some very watchable football but mostly in spells only and Stoke came closest to scoring in the first half when they hit the woodwork. The visitors couldn’t create any moment so dangerous after the break against an improved Chelsea who had rested big players, but after Oscar had gone close and substitutions had been made, we beat the clock with one of the best moves of the game.
With this game the middle one of three in a seven-day spell, Di Matteo rotated his side with John Terry and Frank Lampard both starting on the bench. Gary Cahill came into defence and Juan Mata returned to midfield for his first game of September. Oscar retained his place. Petr Cech was captain.
Stoke made one change. Geoff Cameron replaces suspended Andy Wilkinson at right-back.
Both teams won a corner in the first five minutes but it was not until Mata knocked over Chelsea’s second corner of the game on six minutes that an attempt on goal was made. Torres, who had earlier not made the most of a promising counter-attack, headed over.
On 12 minutes, Hazard fired in a corner from the opposite side and the locks of the flying David Luiz were not too far away from making an important contact at the near post.
Stoke had some good moments, winning their fair share of midfield contests, but Chelsea were looking the brighter on a sunny afternoon. Mikel played a disguised pass that gave Oscar the chance to square the ball into the six-yard box but that was cleared.
The Potters’ threat from set-pieces was never going to be underestimated but Chelsea were left chasing red and white shirts when Glenn Whelan delivered a peach of a dipping free-kick into our box that Jonathan Walters met first, heading over Cech but thankfully against the crossbar.
On 22 minutes Chelsea had a penalty appeal turned down when Ivanovic found himself playing as a temporary centre-forward and contact was made with Cameron, but it never looked likely to impress referee Michael Oliver, who removed his yellow card from his pocket for the first time soon after. Charlie Adam had more-or-less rugby tackled Ramires.
On 25 minutes, Mata produced a moment of inspiration to spot a Torres run and float the ball over the defence. His compatriot brought it down on his chest but then couldn’t connect with his boot. Had Torres’s best chance to score this game already passed?
David Luiz fired a 28th minute free-kick on target but it was comfortable for the extremely fluorescent Amir Begovic.
Ten minutes later, Cech couldn’t hold a Kightly header as he dropped to the deck to save it, Chelsea having been opened up down our left – but Cahill was on hand to clear upfield.
The Blues put pressure on in the final minutes of the half; Ivanovic almost burst through to shoot and Hazard craftily teeing up Cole for a cross, but Tony Pulis would probably have been pleased at the whistle with the scoreline and his team’s showing so far.
The run of not getting penalty decisions continued soon after the restart, this time Oscar the man going down but the contact was not sufficient to convince the ref it wasn’t a dive, and our young Brazilian was booked.
He tested Begovic soon after who had to dive to keep out a shot before Mata got his sights wrong in attempting to find the top corner. Instead he found the Matthew Harding lower tier, many rows back. Chelsea at least were pressing Stoke back deep into their half, although the visitors did make it upfield to win a corner that Crouch, challenged by David Luiz, couldn’t quite reach.
The Blues were flattering to deceive with some quick passing moves in the Stoke half that were consistently failing to turn into chances.
On the hour, Victor Moses was brought on in place of Hazard to pose Stoke a different set of problems. Moments later Pulis introduced Michael Owen for Charlie Adam. The former England marksman lined up deeper than Crouch.
It is often said that it’s the shots not caught cleanly that catch keepers out, and that was almost the case after Oscar showed great control to worm his way into space. Stamford Bridge anticipated another rocket but instead the attempt was a grasscutter that took a slight defection. Begovic only just kept it out.
A Chelsea goal looked on the cards more than at any time in the game. Oscar clipped a shot just wide.
On 76 minutes it was Mikel the man who continued his run and was found by a very good first-time pass by Torres. Cutting inside a defender before lining up to shoot, the Nigerian was denied a magical moment when his effort was blocked.
Two minutes later and Chelsea survived a shot through a crowd and just wide of our far post from substitute Matthew Etherington after Kenwyne Jones had kept alive an over-hit cross.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, Lampard was sent on – Mikel making way. The vice-captain was involved in the move that finally broke the deadlock, playing a simple pass to Moses who knocked the ball first-time to Ivanovic ahead. The Serbian crossed low and Mata’s contribution was crucial – a little backheel that ran into the path of Cole for a close-range chip into the net, but only after it clipped the head of the keeper.
Etherington made a lung-busting covering run to deny Moses as the former Wigan man, playing for the first time at the Bridge, charged half the length of the pitch towards goal.
However Cole’s goal was enough, the game ending in bad-tempered fashion after David Luiz had been booked for catching Walters with a studs-up challenge.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech (c); Ivanovic, David Luiz, Cahill, Cole; Ramires, Mikel (Lampard 80); Mata (Terry 87), Oscar, Hazard (Moses 60); Torres.
Unused subs Turnbull, Azpilicueta, Bertrand, Romeu.
Scorer Cole 84.
Booked Oscar 49, David Luiz 90+2.
Stoke (4-5-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross (c), Huth, Wilson; Walters, Whelan, Adam (Owen 63), Nzonzi, Kightly (Etherington 71); Crouch (Jones 74).
Unused subs Sorensen, Upson, Shotton, Whitehead.
Booked Adam 22
Referee Michael Oliver