Bolton surge may give Liverpool hope
There is nothing like a comfortable victory for the home side that leaves us hacks plenty of time to write a well written and carefully considered match report.
Last-minute goals or dramatic comebacks are not welcome for those of us with deadlines on frantic Saturday afternoon, so Soccernet's Insider is beginning to wonder who he has upset after two games in succession that required an almost complete re-write of previously penned copy.
After carving out a report suggesting Liverpool's title bid had come to an end at Craven Cottage last weekend, a last minute goal from Yossi Benayoun sparked a radical re-write reversing all the opinions from the original article. I was not alone in cursing the Israeli's injury time strike in the late kick-off.
It seemed as if payback was to come at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea cruised into a 4-0 lead against a Bolton side who looked all too eager to surrender against their title chasing opponent and so came the moment to write a feature oozing with praise for the likes of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and, of course, Blues boss Guus Hiddink.
Then, inexplicably, the real story from this game began. Andy O'Brien's strike for Bolton after 70 minutes appeared to be little more than a consolation as it breached the Chelsea defences with a half an hour to go, yet the most amazing result of them all was on the cards when Chris Basham and Matt Taylor also scored for the visitors.
The odds on Bolton coming back from 4-0 down in a game that had drifted comprehensively away from them from the off must have been in the 200-1 region, yet a major flaw in the Chelsea defensive line was exposed by the ever dangerous Kevin Davies and it seemed a last gasp hack off the line by Branislav Ivanaovic to deny Bolton a point.
While Davies does not appear to be a giant leading the Bolton line, his physical presence was way too much for Chelsea skipper John Terry and returning defensive partner Ricardo Carvalho. Keeper Petr Cech also had a nightmare final 20 minutes in the Blues goal.
All this after Hiddink had taken off Drogba and Lampard after the fourth goal had apparently sealed the game and the Dutch coach admitted he was stunned by the Bolton fight back.
"We were far too relaxed," he stated. "When we were leading 4-0 with 20 minutes to go, I felt the next goal would be our fifth, but we got very sloppy and stopped winning duels all over the pitch. We conceded three goals in nine minutes and that seems impossible against a side who are not at the top of the table, but we have to make sure this never happens again.
"Maybe this was a wake-up call for us. I spoke to the boys in the dressing room after and it reminds us of what we have to do in the second leg of the Champions League tie against Liverpool. We cannot afford another defensive display like this."
Gary Cahill was the man who so nearly scored Bolton's last minute leveller as he pounced on a goalmouth scramble in the box that looked set to end with the most dramatic conclusion imaginable and Bolton boss Gary Megson conceded his side had come close to something unthinkable.
"There is anger at the way we have defended and approached this game at times, yet we have scored three goals in the last 25 minutes and could so easily have got something out of it," said Megson.
"Chris Basham made a big difference when he came off the bench and it lifted everyone in the team. He got an extra 10% out of everyone else and at 4-3, you could see they were worried. In the end, we have to be disappointed, but we can obviously take a lot from that late rally."
It seemed as if Chelsea would cruise to victory after Ballack fed Salomon Kalou and the German was on hand to gleefully accept the return pass and lash the ball into roof of the net five minutes before the break.
The breakthrough was timely as Chelsea fans were starting to vent their frustration on a day when nothing but victory would do if they were to retain their faint title hopes alive after Liverpool's lunchtime win against Blackburn. The visitors were beaten again three minutes after the break. A low and deliberate Lampard free-kick picked out an unmarked Drogba in the box and he stabbed home with ease. Bolton boss Megson was a furious onlooker.
On a day when Hiddink was looking for a comfortable day at the office ahead of a week that includes Champions League and FA Cup fixtures, Drogba was doing his best to give him the breathing space he was looking for.
A confusing decision to give Chelsea a penalty after 59 minutes should have killed off Bolton as a cross caught Gtreta Rafn Steinsson on the arm, yet it was hard to see how he could have avoided the ball. Lampard added a third from the spot. Drogba made it four after more woeful Bolton defending.
With the score standing a 4-0, no one would have believed the Chelsea would finish this game clinging on for grim life in the closing stages, yet thus was the case half an hour later. Somehow, Hiddink's side managed to turn this victory into a performance that left you wondering whether they are up to the numerous challenges lying before them in the next couple of weeks.
Rafael Benitez will be interested to watch a tape of this game as the unease of Cech and Carvalho dealing with high balls was so alarming that it is a tactic the Liverpool boss would have to consider using for the Champions League return here on Tuesday.
As Benitez's men need to score three goals at Stamford Bridge to keep their Champions League hopes alive, they may just try and follow the Bolton master plan. MAN OF THE MATCH: Kevin Davies It would be easy to give this award to Drogba or Lampard, yet Davies showed again that he is the best target man available to England with his second half display. John Terry simply couldn't handle him. NO ONE LOVES COLE: The cheers rang out for each Chelsea player as their names were read out before kick-off, but their was a curious absence of noise when Ashley Cole's name was announced. It seems that no-one in football wants to support poor old Ashley after a career that has won him few friends. FOOD WATCH: A tasty chicken in mushroom and tomato sauce was a treat. Well done to the Stamford Bridge catering team.
RUMOUR HAS IT: Michael Essien was dropped by Guus Hiddink for this game after turning up for training 13 stone overweight yesterday. On closer inspection, it was found that he still had Steven Gerrard in his pocket from Wednesday evening. (A poor joke from a loyal Chelsea fan. Sorry)
CHELSEA VERDICT: For an hour, they looked to be back to their serene best, yet you left Stamford Bridge wondering whether they are genuine trophy contenders or not. The opposition are bound to see Bolton's long-ball tactics as a decent game plan against the Blues after this memorable fightback.