Sunderland 1 Chelsea 3
ON Saturday, Sunderland claimed a one-goal lead through Darren Bent and defended valiantly to keep out their opponents for the whole of the second half. Three days on, however, and lightning did not strike twice. Chelsea, it is safe to say, are a rather different proposition to Bolton.
Trailing to Bent’s 18th-minute strike, Carlo Ancelotti’s side displayed commendable reserves of resilience and skill to score three unanswered goals after the interval.
Successful strikes from Michael Ballack and Deco sandwiched a penalty from Frank Lampard as Sunderland were swept away by opponents who will expect to challenge for the title this season, and half-time hopes of the Wearsiders topping the table quickly vanished after the break.
The second-half gulf between the sides was vast, but Black Cats boss Steve Bruce will no doubt prefer to concentrate on the positives that emerged before the interval, when Sunderland were just about a match for their ‘Big Four’ opponents.
In particular, Bruce will have been delighted with a second goal in as many games from Bent.
Fabio Capello might have left the Stadium of Light satisfied with the form of Lampard and Ashley Cole, but the England manager will also have acknowledged the predatory instincts of Bent.
Having opened his account with a clinical back-post header at Bolton, Sunderland’s £10m man proved he is equally adept with the ball at his feet when he broke the deadlock in the 18th minute of last night’s game.
Bent had already fired a warning shot to the right of Petr Cech’s goal after Kieran Richardson’s flick-on sent him galloping down the inside- right channel early on, and the former Spurs striker pounced instinctively when a second chance came his way.
There was an element of fortune about the build-up, with Kenwyne Jones’ swivelled shot spinning into Bent’s path after deflecting off John Terry’s heel, but there was nothing fortuitous about the clinical side-footed finish that followed.
Two games, two goals. With a crucial World Cup qualifier against Croatia coming up at the start of next month, Capello will need no reminding that no other English goalscorer boasts a strike ratio like that.
Bent’s strike came at the end of a frenetic opening period in which the wisdom of Bruce’s midfield strengthening was clear to see. With Lorik Cana and Lee Cattermole taking up where they had left off three days earlier, there was a bite and intensity about the Black Cats’ play that was lacking on far too many occasions last season.
Twice Cana flew into 50-50 challenges in the opening ten minutes; twice the Albanian emerged with possession.
The hosts tackled ferociously throughout the first half, but their commitment was not enough to prevent a gradual momentum shift that saw Chelsea begin to dominate in the ten minutes before half-time.
Ancelotti made wholesale changes in the wake of Saturday’s narrow success over Hull and, perhaps understandably, it took time for the visitors’ diamond-shaped midfield to click.
When it did though, Sunderland struggled to get the ball out of their own half, with Ballack probing intelligently from the left-hand side and Lampard combining effectively with the muscular Drogba.
Chelsea chances remained at something of a premium, but the visitors would have been level had Cattermole not produced an excellent goalline block seven minutes before half-time.
Deco’s corner looped towards Ballack, and after the Blues midfielder unleashed a venomous dipping volley, Cattermole stuck out his left leg to keep Sunderland’s lead intact.
It was a crucial intervention to embellish another impressive midfield performance from the Teessider.
It was not enough to stem the tide, however, with Chelsea starting the second half in the same dominant vein in which they finished the first.
Branislav Ivanovic forced Marton Fulop into a scrambled save and, from the subsequent corner, Drogba powered an unmarked header narrowly over the crossbar.
The pressure was building inexorably, and the hosts finally cracked in the 52nd minute.
Lampard’s corner caused more problems in the Sunderland six-yard box, and after Ivanovic flicked the ball on, Ballack slid a precise finish between Cattermole and the right-hand post. After the midfielder’s goalline heroics to thwart the German before the break, it was too much to expect a repeat display so soon after the interval.
Buoyed by their equaliser, Chelsea continued to pour men forward into the Sunderland half, and the Londoners claimed the lead shortly after the hour mark.
Drogba appeared to fall over George McCartney’s leg rather than actually suffer a foul from the Northern Irishman, but referee Steve Bennett nevertheless pointed to the spot. Lampard, so deadly from 12 yards, casually drove the ball to Fulop’s left.
Worse would have followed for the hosts had Drogba not headed Cole’s cross over the crossbar from the edge of the six-yard box, but Chelsea did not have to wait long for their third goal.
Jose Bosingwa shuffled the ball infield to Deco, and the Portuguese midfielder unleashed a ferocious low strike that cannoned into the net off the inside of the left-hand post.
Goals: Bent (1-0, 18), Ballack (1-1, 52), Lampard (1-2, pen, 61), Deco (1-3, 70)
Bookings: Richardson (dissent, 29), Ivanovic (foul, 54), Cana (foul, 68), Drogba (76, dissent)
Referee: Steve Bennett (Orpington) 6
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Fulop 6; Bardsley 5, Ferdinand 6, Collins 6, McCartney 5; Henderson 5, CANA 7, Cattermole 6 (Leadbitter 62, 5), Richardson 5 (Reid 84); Jones 6 (Campbell 62, 4), Bent 7. Subs (not used): Gordon (gk), Nosworthy, Edwards, Healy.
CHELSEA (4-4-2): Cech 6; Bosingwa 7, Ivanovic 7, Terry 6, A Cole 7; BALLACK 8, Essien 7, Deco 6 (Shevchenko 86), Lampard 8; Kalou 6 (Malouda 76), Drogba 8 (Sturridge 84). Subs (not used): Hilario (gk), Carvalho, Mikel, Anelka.
MAN OF THE MATCH
MICHAEL Ballack – the German added the drive and impetus that Chelsea were lacking against Hull at the weekend.