For the second time in a week, Demba Ba is the hero. This time the Senegalese striker started the game and he hit the winner two-thirds of the way through to keep Chelsea title hopes alive and give us our first victory at the Liberty Stadium.
The win came against a Swansea side who played most of the game with 10 men following a red card for defender Chico Flores. A handful of chances were missed by Jose Mourinho’s side before the break with those opportunities increasing after tactical changes at the interval.
Thankfully, and although Petr Cech was required to make three good saves, the single strike was enough to secure three important points in South Wales.
Ba retained his place after his momentous late intervention in the Champions League midweek and three players ineligible for that match also returned, Nemanja Matic and Ramires in central midfield and Mohamed Salah who took his place in the attacking midfield trio along with Willian and Andre Schurrle.
The defence was the one fielded ever since the FA Cup defeat at Manchester City two months ago.
Michu was not even on the bench for Swansea so his fellow Spaniard Pablo Hernandez came in as one of two changes from their defeat at Hull last time out. Nathan Dyer replaced Jonathan de Guzman on the right of midfield.
Liverpool’s lunchtime win over Man City left Chelsea five points off the top ahead of kick-off but now City were two points behind us with only one game in hand.
Before we set about the job of closing the gap to Brendan Rodgers’s team however, a minute’s silence took place in memory of the 96 fans who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster 25 years ago. In common with all games this weekend, this match kicked off a symbolic seven minutes later than originally scheduled.
Within seconds of that kick-off, there was pressure on the Chelsea defence but Terry headed away with Wilfried Bony leaping close by. Terry again cleared when a ball behind Azpilicueta allowed Dyer to cross, and then Cech saved from Hernandez. It was a good start by the home side.
On five minutes, Chelsea should have scored. Ivanovic slipped a challenge and exchanged passes with Schurrle before accurately picking out Salah. The Egyptian side-footed wide from 10 yards out. He dragged a more difficult effort wide of the same post soon after.
On 12 minutes, Cech, who had just dealt well with a difficult corner, reacted sharply to tip over a header from Bony from Angel Rangel’s cross.
Shortly after Chico Flores rightly earned a booking for impeding Willian who was heading into the Swansea half on the break. The central defender therefore must have known he was walking a tightrope when he brought an end to a flowing Chelsea move forward with a barge into Schurrle wide of the penalty area. As soon as referee Phil Dowd decided it was a foul, he surely had to book the Spaniard and after a little delay, and presumably some words with his assistants, he did so, showing yellow then red cards.
Swansea were a man light with just 16 minutes played, and had to sacrifice Hernandez for Jordi Amat in a defensive reshuffle.
Chelsea weren’t quick to capitalise on the man advantage. Willian shot well wide and Matic had an effort blocked but those incidents were well-spaced. Salah over-hit his cross when Willian’s clever pass found him in space on the right of the area.
On 35 minutes, Willian drilled a threatening low ball into the six-yard box but Demba Ba’s backheel didn’t divert it enough and it went wide. That was a worthy attempt.
A corner, gifted by Swans captain Ashley Williams, was delivered well by Willian but although the head of Ivanovic met it squarely, he cleared the bar.
As half-time approached, Ramires, back after a European suspension, bundled the ball into the danger zone but it evaded his team-mates and Swansea counter-attacked, Cech saving from Dyer who had been involved in most of the home side’s best play. Azpilicueta was finding himself outnumbered more than usual when Swansea attacked down their right.
Schurrle was booked for catching Rangel on the top of the foot, the card greeted with a cheer from the Swansea crowd who had continued to hold our German responsible for the earlier sending off.
Chelsea’s first-half chances ended how they had begun, with Salah not taking an opportunity from inside the area, this time after Ba held the ball up and Ramires poked it into the run of the Egyptian.
Jose Mourinho wanted to cause the 10-man opposition more problems. He made a double change at half-time with Oscar on for Ramires and Samuel Eto’o replacing Schurrle.
With Oscar playing somewhere between a no.8 and a no.10 and Eto’o right up front with Ba, it had the desired effect of pushing Swansea back towards their goal.
Williams had to clear a ball from close to his own goal line when Azpilicueta’s cross bounced off Oscar, and then with 10 minutes of the half gone, Ba’s glancing header from an Ivanovic cross flew a whisker wide.
Three minutes later, Eto’o missed the kind of chance he built his immense reputation snapping up. Initially surprised when Williams knocked a cross into his feet, the Cameroonian fired wide with the goal gapping. Ba hit a shot on the turn at Michel Vorm moments later. Could we continue to be wasteful like this and not pay a price?
Swansea, given their less numbers, were proving annoyingly resilient, with plenty of hard work in midfield. Then they broke through Routledge and it took a deflection off the stretching Terry to prevent the winger’s shot seriously testing Cech.
The siege at the other end resumed, but with white shirts in the right place at the right time to frustrate the Blues and balls dropping just the wrong side of posts.
It was ironic that for all the periods of sustained pressure, and for Swansea’s parking of the bus, the breakthrough when it came on 67 minutes was counter-attacking at its best. Taking a throw in his own half, Matic wasted no time in spearing a superbly accurate pass up to Ba who was with last defender Williams.
Ba didn’t dally. He took his left-foot shot early past Williams, which is maybe why Vorm, even though he did get a touch on it, couldn’t prevent it rippling the back of the Swansea net.
Ba should probably have added a second goal 11 minutes later when he was too strong for Amat on the turn but he fired over, his last touch. Mikel came on for the remaining 10 minutes.
The Blues could have done better when Eto’o sent Oscar racing away, but Swansea defended well to keep this game on an edge. Eto’o shot wide first time from a Salah pass.
There was one scare before the end, Cech having to paddle away a Shelvey cross that was bouncing awkwardly and worryingly towards the target.
The contest really should have been ended in the closing minutes but on three occasions inaccuracy inside the penalty area or a run offside brought the Blues to a halt when we had Swansea seriously stretched.
We had made hard work of these three points at times, but the win that brings to an end our short run of poor results away from home had come with a clean sheet and a good striker’s goal.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires (Oscar h-t), Matic; Salah, Willian, Schurrle (Eto’o h-t); Ba (Mikel 78).
Unused subs Schwarzer, Cole, David Luiz, Torres.
Scorer Ba 67.
Booked Schurrle 44, Mikel 85.
Swansea (4-2-3-1): Vorm; Rangel, Chico, Williams (c), Davies; Britton (De Guzman 85), Shelvey; Dyer (Ngog 72), Hernandez (Amat 18), Routledge; Bony.
Unused subs Tremmel, Taylor, Fulton, Emnes.
Booked Chico 14
Sent off Chico 16
Referee Phil Dowd