MATCH REPORT: Chelsea 1, Stoke City 0
MARTIN SPINKS REPORTS FROM STAMFORD BRIDGE, SATURDAY
Chelsea 1, Stoke City 0.
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STOKE came within a whisker of a fifth successive draw before bowing out to Ashley Cole's late winner here at the Bridge of sighs this afternoon.
City defended with typical resolution – and threatened impressively for an away side themselves – before neat interplay characteristic of Chelsea's afternoon ended with Cole's tidy close-range finish.
It was harsh on a Stoke outfit playing with such discipline- and so close to that Premier League record of five straight draws at the start of a season.
Chelsea, with veterans John Terry and Frank Lampard rested on the bench, predictably dominated possession and pressure in the opening quarter of this afternoon's game.
Yet it was the visitors coming closest during that period when Glenn Whelan's 19th minute free kick was curled into the Chelsea area for Jon Walters, who had won the infringement, to thump his header against the bar as Petr Cech stood virtually motionless.
Michael Kightly also had a couple of shots blocked, the second after a fine crossfield ball from Charlie Adam, as City attacked with purpose on the relatively few occasions open to them.
Chelsea, meanwhile, were largely restricted to a clutch of blocked shots as the likes of Oscar and Juan Mata took aim with bodies in front of them.
The Blues should have nosed in front in the 26th minute, however, when Mata scooped the ball over Stoke's sturdy rearguard for Fernando Torres to chest down.
But a rather embarrassing air shot followed and that allowed the alert Asmir Begovic to save at his feet.
David Luiz, fancying himself as Didier Drogba, then dipped a long-range free-kick straight at Begovic as the home side continued searching for an elusive breakthrough.
Eden Hazard remained a lively thorn in Stoke's side as Chelsea tried to up the ante, but it was Stoke taking aim from distance when Marc Wilson's thunderbolt tested Cech's handling in front of his face.
And the Blues were sweating even more profusely when Geoff Cameron's driven cross from the right by-ling was bundled goalwards by Peter Crouch to force Cech into a scrambled save.
Half-time: Chelsea 0, Stoke 0.
Oscar was at the heart of the action immediately after the break to leave Stoke under severe pressure in front of their own goal.
First, he was rightly booked for diving after going over under a Ryan Shawcross challenge inside the City area.
Then a minute later he worked the ball onto his right foot for a firm effort that Begovic did well to collect falling to his left.
Mata's trusty left foot let him down badly soon after when he curled horribly wide from Chelsea's next goalward assault.
Crouch came perilously close to converting a far post corner and then struck a self-made volley over from the edge of the area as Stoke played their part in an eventful third quarter of the contest.
Michael Owen's first contribution after replacing the disappointing Adam was a scooped clearance from inside his own area to prevent the slippery Mata eyeing up a shooting chance.
Begovic was then down superbly to save Oscar's deflected grub hunter one-handed to his right as a breakthrough beckoned once more.
He remained much the more occupied of the two keepers entering the final 15 – but it was the visitors threatening when subs Kenwyne Jones and Matthew Etherington combined for the latter to sweep just wide.
With five minutes of normal time remaining, Stoke could feel justifiably hard done by after conceding the game's only goal from a Chelsea break upfield.
The action climaxed with Branislav Ivanovic's ball from the right being deftly flicked on by Mata for COLE to dink over the diving Begovic from close range after beating the offside flag.
It might have been 2-0 had Etherington not back-tracked brilliantly to dive in and block a Moses shot on the run from another Chelsea breakaway.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cole, Luiz, Cahill, Mikel (Lampard,81), Ramires, Oscar, Mata (Terry,88), Hazard (Moses,62), Torres. Subs: Turnbull, Romeu, Terry, Azpilicueta, Bertrand.
Stoke: Begovic, Cameron, Wilson, Shawcross, Huth, Walters, Whelan, Nzonzi, Adam (Owen,64), Kightly (Etherington,72), Crouch (jones,75). Subs: Sorensen, Whitehead, Upson, Shotton.
Referee: M Oliver.
Cards: Chelsea – Oscar (diving,50) Luiz (foul,90), Stoke – Adam (foul,23).