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Premiership - Stoke City Home 17th January 2009 2-1


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Resolute Stoke Finally Succumb to Chelsea Onslaught

By Alan McGuinness

Juliano Beletti and Frank Lampard both scored in a frantic final few minutes to hand Chelsea an unlikely 2-1 victory against Stoke City.

The Potters stood firm for the majority of the game and frustrated their more illustrious opponents with some top draw defending.

They took a shock lead when Rory Delap ran on to James Beattie’s pass forward and chipped the ball over Petr Cech.

The goal stunned Stamford Bridge and Chelsea appeared dead and buried.

But Beletti headed in from Franco Di Santo’s cross and then Lampard scored the winner on his 400th Chelsea appearance.

Chelsea’s afternoon started in the worst possible fashion when John Terry injured himself in the warm up. Alex took his place. It was hardly the ideal time to lose your defensive rock and captain.

Inevitably, Stoke’s main threat on the Chelsea goal came from throw ins and set pieces.

Rory Delap had to wait only 90 seconds for his first chance to bombard the Chelsea box with one of his famous throw ins, and his delivery caused problems for Chelsea, Alex managing to head it wide for a corner.

Abdoulaye Faye connected with the resulting set piece, but his header was off target.

Salomon Kalou had Chelsea’s first clear chance of the game, rounding Thomas Sorensen, but the Ivorian found his path to goal blocked by a posse of Stoke players and he was unable to get a shot off.

A free kick just outside the box presented Chelsea with their next opportunity. Michael Ballack’s free kick beat the wall but was straight at Sorensen.

With 22 minutes on the clock Kalou wasted another chance. A Lampard free kick appeared destined for the net but Kalou stuck a leg out and diverted it over the bar.

Five minutes later Kalou was in the thick of things again, going down in the box rather easily. Peter Walton wasn’t convinced and let play continue, much to the frustration of the home fans.

Nicolas Anelka - who was full of energy all afternoon - then had two good chances. He stung the palms of Sorensen with a drive from outside the box, and headed on target from a corner but again Sorensen was on hand to keep it out.

A rasping shot from Ashley Cole brought out the best in Sorensen before half time. Cole’s shot took a slight deflection and the Danish keeper was at full stretch to tip the left back’s attempt over the crossbar to safety.

The pattern of the second half was much the same: near constant Chelsea domination peppered with occasional spells of Stoke possession.

Many inside Stamford Bridge readied themselves to celebrate the opening goal when Florent Malouda found Ballack unmarked eight yards out. However the normally clinical German conspired to head the ball wide.

Then to the total amazement of everyone inside Stamford Bridge, Stoke scored. Debutant James Beattie fed Rory Delap who shrugged of the attentions of Ashley Cole and chipped the ball tidily over Cech.

Chelsea’s players looked at each other, shell shocked. An exasperated Luiz Felipe Scolari hauled Florent Malouda off and replaced him with Franco Di Santo.

The home side’s play hereafter had an air of desperation about it. The likes of Alex and Anelka resorted to shooting from outside the box as space to fashion an opening was hard to come by.

When Lampard managed to get some room in the box he shot agonisingly wide. Cole repeated Lampard’s feat moments later.

With time ticking away Scolari sent on his final two substitutes. Jose Bosingwa and John Obi Mikel were the players to depart, being replaced by Juliano Beletti and the young Slovakian winger Miroslav Stoch.

It would be Beletti who would provide the equalising goal in the 88th minute. Kalou crossed in from the left and Di Santo headed back across goal into the path of the Brazilian who nodded in.

A free kick in a dangerous position soon afterwards offered him a chance to seal the three points. But he could only shoot straight into the wall.

Stoch had a shot blocked but an improbable comeback was completed deep into stoppage time and the diminutive Slovakian played a part.

His cross, like so many others this afternoon, was cleared by Stoke to safety. Or so they thought. The ball fell to Lampard who smashed a left footed shot past a despairing Sorensen.

The England midfielder’s goal sparked wild celebrations on the Chelsea dug out and in the stands. Luiz Felipe Scolari could breathe an almighty sigh of relief. Problems remain, but this improbable win will serve to paper over the cracks and buy the increasingly beleaguered Brazilian some valuable time.

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