AVB relief as Blues whip Wolves

Recent losses to Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen had piled the

pressure on the 34-year-old Blues boss, but the tension at Stamford

Bridge eased in the sixth minute of Saturday’s Premier League game

when John Terry capitalised on some poor marking to head home Juan

Mata’s cross. Daniel Sturridge slipped his marker to tap home

Mata’s cross just before the half hour and the Spaniard added the

hosts’ third in the last minute of the first half when he was given

plenty of space to convert Ashley Cole’s centre from 12 yards. The

result could have been a rout had it not been for a series of

excellent stops from Wolves goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, the

highlight of which was a double-save from Sturridge and Mata

halfway through the second period. The performance was hardly

vintage Chelsea, and they will come up against much tougher

opponents in the coming weeks, but the result will ensure

Villas-Boas sleeps easier on Saturday night, even though his team

remained fifth after Manchester United’s draw with Newcastle.

Villas-Boas, whose team had gone into today’s match having lost two

of their last three league games, cut a defiant figure yesterday,

insisting he was the man to lead Chelsea out of their current

slump. And today’s game provided him with a perfect chance to

restore some belief among the club’s hierarchy and support. Wolves,

who had won just one of their last 10 games before today, were

there for the taking, and after a cagey opening five minutes,

Chelsea took hold of the game thanks to Terry’s opener. Ramires

stole the ball off a dallying Nenad Milijas and fired goalwards

only to see Hennessey tip the Brazilian’s effort wide with a

brilliant save. Stamford Bridge was sent into uproar from the

resulting corner as Terry lost his marker to head Mata’s cross home

from eight yards to give the Blues the lead. Despite taking the

lead Chelsea, still lacked confidence and instead of pushing for an

immediate second, they allowed Wolves time to settle. The

midlanders lacked creativity, however, and their only real chance

of the opening quarter came when Stephen Ward’s header looped over

the bar. The Blues were cautious in possession and appeared to lack

the confidence to turn the screw on their opponents, but they

suddenly sprung to life to double their lead in the 29th minute.

Ronald Zubar attempted to bail Mata over, but the Spaniard kept his

footing and sent over a low cross that Sturridge tapped home from

close range after muscling past his marker. David Edwards headed

wide from eight yards after Chelsea failed to clear a Wolves corner

as the visitors looked for an immediate reply, but Mick McCarthy’s

vocal attempt to inject some life into his team failed. Instead,

the Wolves boss looked to change things around with Milijas coming

off for striker Sylvan Ebanks-Blake in the 38th minute. Hennessey

spilled Sturridge’s powerful shot over the bar just before the

break and Mata made it 3-0 on the stroke of half-time when he was

given room to beat Hennessey from 12 yards. Hennessey pulled off a

top-drawer save to stop Ramires’ powerful volley after the break as

Chelsea looked to start the second half in the same way they had

ended the first. Wolves looked a much more confident outfit in the

second half, however, and almost pulled one back when Ebanks-Blake

threaded Ward through, but the Irishman’s shot trickled a couple of

yards wide. Karl Henry’s cross whistled just over the heads of a

posse of Wolves attackers before Chelsea came close to adding a

fourth on the counter. Sturridge slipped into the Wolves box after

getting on the end of Ramires’ pass and sneaked past Christophe

Berra but saw his cross cleared by Johnson when he should have shot

at Hennessey. Didier Drogba, who had been anonymous for most of the

match, then hammered a powerful drive just wide while Hennessey was

scrambling across his goal-line. Frank Lampard, dropped for Oriol

Romeu, received a huge welcome when he came on in the 69th minute

in the place of Raul Meireles. Hennessey then pulled off an

excellent double save from point-blank range to deny Sturridge and

then Mata. The home crowd demanded Fernando Torres’ introduction,

and Villas-Boas finally unleashed the former Liverpool man in the

place of Drogba. The Spaniard darted in to the Wolves box, keen to

make an impact, but his fierce shot was deflected wide. Torres once

again stormed the Wolves penalty area but failed in his audacious

attempt to lob Hennessey from 18 yards as the clock ticked towards

90 minutes. Wolves had one last push for a consolation, but

Ebanks-Blake’s weak injury-time header was the closest they came

and the final whistle came, bringing a big smile to the face of

Villas-Boas as he went down the tunnel.