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Premiership - Wigan Home 28th February 2009 2-1


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Lightning strikes twice to keep Chelsea in title hunt

Chelsea 2-1 Wigan

By Alan McGuinness

When Frank Lampard smashed home the winning goal against Stoke last month to complete a miraculous comeback, the turnaround looked set to be a pivotal moment in the Blues’ so far faltering season.

The circumstances in which the England midfielder repeated that feat this afternoon might not have been as miraculous, but the similarities are striking. Both Stoke and Wigan are sides that you would expect Chelsea to dispatch without much bother. But in both games the West Londoners failed to take their chances and almost paid for it, but for the late interventions of Lampard.

To credit Wigan, they showed much more adventure than Stoke did when they pitched up at Stamford Bridge.

For much of the first half they were the better side, and had a succession of early chances.

Petr Cech tipped an effort from Paul Scharner round the post and then both Ashley Cole and John Terry were forced into making goal line clearances.

Chelsea then began to assert some authority, with Didier Drogba firing across goal and wide, and John Obi Mikel having a fierce shot saved by Chris Kirkland.

With 24 minutes on the clock, Chelsea took the lead through their captain, John Terry. Lampard chipped the ball into the box and Bramble cleared. The ball fell to Terry who executed a brilliant scissor kick volley which went in via a deflection off Emerson Boyce. It was an historic goal. It is Terry’s 34th goal for Chelsea, the highest total for a defender in the club’s history.

Terry’s fellow centre back Alex almost doubled the Blues’ advantage moments later, Kirkland however was equal to the task and kept the Brazilian’s drive out.

Kirkland was on hand again to save a shot from Lampard shortly afterwards. The ball rebounded back out to an offside Michael Ballack, whose header was cleared off the line by the impressive Titus Bramble anyway.

Terry and Drogba had further chances before the half was out, but the home side had to settle for just a one goal lead going into the break.

Bramble was again at his very best to deny Chelsea moments after the restart, acrobatically clearing a Drogba shot off the line.

Premier League debutant Michael Mancienne – who had hitherto put in a solid performance – rather clumsily brought down Amir Zaki with just over 10 minutes left. Chelsea survived the free kick, but were made to pay for their profligacy by Oliver Kapo with nine minutes to go.

Manuel Figueroa found some space on the right wing and played the ball in to Kapo, who got ahead of Alex and dispatched the ball past Cech.

The hordes inside Stamford Bridge couldn’t help but feel a sinking sense of de ja vu. Wigan snatched a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge last season, a result that was fatal to Chelsea’s title hopes. A similar result would have left Chelsea languishing in third place and nine points behind Manchester United, surely an insurmountable deficit to overcome.

Thankfully for Guus Hiddink, lightning struck once more. Substitute Juliano Beletti’s free kick was headed on by Ballack, Lampard beat his former team mate Mario Melchiot to the ball and headed in past Kirkland and secure the three points.

The goal makes Lampard Chelsea’s sixth joint highest goal scorer, but more importantly, elevates them into second place and keeps their title hopes – however faint they may appear - alive.

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