CHARLTON 0-1 CHELSEALeaving your mucky finger prints all over the demise of two Premiership clubs in the same season is unlikely to do much for your reputation, yet Alan Pardew somehow seems to be fireproof.
Sacked by West Ham after their alarming slump at the start of the season, his reputation was apparently untarnished as Charlton came calling just a few weeks later, though you have to wonder why 'Pards' was considered to be the ideal man to manage a crisis at The Valley.
Being affable and welcoming towards the media has won him a few friends among the odd group of men who get paid for watching this game and passing their over-opinionated comments every week. It means more than a few negative stories about him may never have seen the light of day, but the poison pens will move into overdrive should Charlton lose their Premiership status this season and Pardew is likely to be at the sharp end of the criticism.
We will never know whether he could have found a way of reviving West Ham's fortunes, but if he is the managerial master many seem to believe he might be, then Pardew needs to produce a miracle at Charlton. While he may wriggle out of a failure by claiming the task he inherited was not of his making, the next three and a half months will make or break this likeable coach who still has so much to prove.
There have been some positive signs of progress in his month in charge at The Valley - the impressive win at Portsmouth an obvious highlight - yet he has clearly come to the conclusion that ugly football is the only way to dig his side out of muddy waters.
Playing with just one striker in a 4-5-1 formation can only be seen as a negative approach from home team and their insistence on attacking via the aerial route means season ticket holders at this ground can look forward to some grizzly afternoons from their team in the next few months.
Predictable and one dimensional, the lack of width and an inability to play through the midfield left you wondering whether their tactic was to play for a lucky break against a Chelsea side that again started with midfielder Michael Essien playing as a make-shift centre-back, with John Terry left on the bench as he makes his return from injury.
While hitting long balls at the Chelsea defence may have worked for a Liverpool side that was spearheaded by Peter Crouch a couple of weeks back, it was never likely to pay off with the isolated Marcus Bent battling alone and with little hope of success.
On a day when the champions were under pressure to collect the points they needed to trim the gap with Manchester United at the top of the table, Charlton made it all too easy for Jose Mourinho's men and they could have had this game won long before the half-time whistle was blown.
Didier Drogba and Andriy Shevchenko both went close to opening the scoring before Frank Lampard broke the deadlock with a trademark long rage screamer after 18 minutes. Playing with flair and confidence, a second Chelsea goal seemed inevitable and the contribution of two players under pressure was particularly impressive.
Mourinho's outspoken criticism of Shevchenko has been one of the most talked about topics of the season to date, but the Ukrainian seems to have taken the hint and is now following a familiar path taken by players accused of lacking the bottle for a fight.
Chasing every ball as if his life depended on it and getting himself into decent scoring positions, his 20th minute header could easily have brought him a welcome Premiership goal, only for his effort to fly over the crossbar. He is not showing his legendary form yet, but at least 'Sheva' now seems to understand the requirements of the English game.
The other eye-catching display came from left-back Wayne Bridge, whose long wait for a run in the Chelsea side seems to have come to an end. Ashley Cole's injury last week was viewed as a dent to the Blues title charge, though the impact of his absence may not be too damaging if Bridge continues to play as he did at The Valley. Charging forward and giving Chelsea a real attacking threat down the left flank, he delivered a handful of impressive crosses.
The game was crying out for Pardew to make a change and he made a move by throwing former Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on for the second half. With The Valley faithful in fine voice and trying to raise their side, the stage was set for an unlikely comeback that could have come to fruition if they had a game plan or the ability to hurt their illustrious opponents.
Amdy Faye came close to salvaging a point for the Addicks as Petr Cech was forced into a fine save to keep out his powerful second half shot, but Pardew was left to praise the work ethic of his players. 'We gave the champions a run for their money, but we were not quite good enough to get a result,' was Pardew's assessment. 'If we play with that much commitment for the rest of the season, then we will have a chance of staying up.
'Add quality players like Darren Bent and Andy Reid into a team fighting as hard as we are just now, you must have a chance. There was a lot of gloom and doom around the club when I arrived, but it is dispersing now.'
John Terry's appearance for the final few minutes warmed Mourinho's heart and his embrace for both Cech and Shevchenko at the end was further proof that the particles of discontent are starting to settle at Stamford Bridge. 'Sheva did well again and I feel very confident when a team launch high balls at us and we have Cech there to deal with them,' he added.
'Now that JT is back, other teams will have to come up with a different plan against us because high balls into the box will not work any more. We have the defensive stability back and the gap at the top cannot be any more than six points, whatever happens now.
'Manchester United will feel some pressure at Tottenham on Sunday, but we have done our job and what they do is out of our hands. We have five Cup Finals in February and the first one has ended in a Chelsea victory.'
He also initially refused to comment on reports linking him with a summer move to Real Madrid and then, typically, spoke at length about the rumours. 'I have too much respect for Real Madrid and too much respect for their manager, Fabio Capello, to talk about this story,' he barked. 'If people want to play the game over my job, then they can play the game without me. I will not play with them.
'All I will say is there has been no contact between me and Madrid and I don't think it is right to talk about a job when a man like Capello is there at the moment.'
As ever, Jose's press conference was a little more entertaining than the game, but this was a crucial afternoon for both Chelsea and Charlton. The winners can dare to believe that glory is still within their grasp, but the losers are rapidly running out of games to save their Premiership lives.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Frank Lampard
John Terry may be fit to resume his role as Chelsea captain, yet Lampard led by example in this game and his contribution both defensively and offensively was immense.
TOUCHLINE SHOCK: Jose ditched his famed coat and turned up in a humble tracksuit. His army of female admirers will not have been impressed.
FOOD WATCH: The ribs and pizza prior to kick off was complimented with a very enjoyable soup at half-time.
CHELSEA VERDICT: This was the sort of win champions grind out and while they are a long way from their very best, you feel a run of 10 straight wins is not out of the question with Cech and Terry sealing up their defensive flaws.
CHARLTON VERDICT: It was always going to be hard for them to make an impression on the champions, but their inability to create chances was worrying. Pardew may claim to be pleased with the spirit, but his team will need more than that to survive.