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Premiership - Aston Villa Away 21st February 2009 1-0


Alan

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Hiddink's golden touch rejuvenates Chelsea

Aston Villa 0-1 Chelsea

By Alan McGuinness

In the build up to this vital clash, Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill said that Chelsea had to beat his side to stand any chance of winning the title. Nicolas Anelka's first half goal ensured that the Blues still have faint hope of taking the title back to Stamford Bridge.

The Frenchman struck in the 19th minute and Chelsea dominated the first half. Villa rallied after the break, but a lack of quality in the final third ensured that Chelsea held on for a vital three points that lifts them back into third.

Hiddink - who insists that he will walk away from the club in the summer - chose not to radically alter the side that beat Waford 3-1 in the FA Cup last weekend. Paulo Ferreira came in at left back in place of the suspended Ashley Cole. Jose Bosingwa and John Terry also returned, and Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka were again paired together up front.

It was the former who had the first effort on target of the match, a low shot that Brad Friedel gathered with ease.

Some slack goalkeeping from Petr Cech presented Emile Heskey with Aston Villa's first opportunity, but under pressure from Terry he fired over the bar.

In a lively opening, both Frank Lampard and Gabriel Agbonlahor had shots on goal, before Anelka put Chelsea ahead with an extremely well worked goal.

The goal owed much to the quick feet of Lampard, who wriggled past Stillian Petrov and Curtis Davies with some neat footwork before playing in Anelka, who chipped the ball over the onrushing Friedel and into the net.

It was his 21st goal of the season and his first in the league for over two months.

Villa's play belied their lofty league position and but for Brad Friedel Terry could have added a second from a corner.

But with players with the class of Ashley Young and Agbonlahor, Villa were always going to fashion chances. Mark Halsey provided Young with a chance from a free kick after rather harshly penalising John Obi Mikel for bringing down Emile Heskey.

The England international stepped up and crashed his shot against the bar with Cech motionless.

Terry again troubled Villa with another header after the break - this time Petrov was on hand to head off the line.

Whatever was said at half time by Martin O'Neill seemed to revitalise his side. Limp and lacklustre in the first period, O'Neill's team looked in the ascendancy. Agbonlahor forced Cech into a save at his near post and the Czech international was also called into action by Gareth Barry as the game moved into the final 20 minutes.

Barry had another effort on 74 minutes, but shot too close to Cech.

As the game entered its closing stages Chelsea rediscovered their attacking verve which had deserted them for the majority of the second half.

Drogba - who didn't have his finest game in a Chelsea shirt - shot well over after the ball fortuitously broke to him. But the Ivorian did show a glimpse of his old self when he held the ball up and played in Bosingwa, who rather disappointing fired straight at Friedel.

The much maligned Deco - who replaced Salomon Kalou - then went on a mazy run, beating two players in a tight spot and then weaving his way into the box where he set up Michael Ballack, whose rasping shot was tipped over by Friedel.

That proved to be the last action of an absorbing match. This was a Chelsea performance reminiscent of the days of Jose Mourinho. A lead would be gained and then held on to through a mix of retention of possession and solid defending. Hiddink's Chelsea did just that today.

This defensive steel will be needed to keep on the heels of an imperious looking Manchester United.

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