Chelsea escape with a win over Villa as Lambert fumes at refereeing decisions.
Jose Mourinho realised once again just what Premier League football is all about as his Chelsea side clawed their way, by hook and by crook, past a gutsy Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.
The home side took the lead through a Antonio Luna own goal before Christian Benteke bagged his third goal of the new season just before the break. Branislav Ivanovic could have been sent off for an elbow to the Belgian striker before he nodded home Chelsea’s winner late on, before John Terry appeared to handle the ball in his area two minutes from time, leaving Paul Lambert fuming and Villa unlucky after a performance their manager was extremely proud of.
"I thought my team were outstanding," exclaimed the Villa boss at full time.
"I don’t think we deserved to lose the game and we were up against one of the teams that are favourites to win it but we’ve got nothing to be ashamed off about the way we played. I was proud of them on Saturday and I'm proud of them tonight."
Many of the problems that saw Villa slide dangerously towards relegation stemmed from the hangover left by an 8-0 thrashing on this ground last December, and although Ron Vlaar claimed earlier in the week that the mental affects of that loss were long gone, the away side’s start begged to differ.
Paul Lambert paced up and down inside his technical area fuming at the lack of cohesion and communication his side were displaying in the opening ten minutes and much like their opening day trip to Arsenal, Villa found themselves behind to an early goal.
Hazard on the left flank had already made life difficult for the still learning Matthew Lowton and when the Belgian nipped inside on the left after linking with Oscar, he bore down on goal looking for a finish. Brad Guzan saved the attackers initial effort but couldn’t stop the backtracking Antonio Luna from diverting his save straight back into the Villa net.
The visitors were behind and Chelsea were off flying.
Unfortunately for the home fans, Villa managed to clip the wings of the Chelsea attack and bring their hosts back down to earth. With two lines of four and five used to breakdown Chelsea’s attacking trio of Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar, Chelsea were forced to resort to efforts from range or long balls over the top to Demba Ba, brought in to replace Fernando Torres who was nowhere to be seen on the teamsheet Wednesday night.
Guzan could remain calm for much of the half while the ten men in front of him grew in confidence. Benteke was the main outlet for balls forward but he found himself having a very off opening 30 minutes, mistiming passes and misplacing touches. Gary Cahill and John Terry kept the current 2013 Premier League top scorer under wraps but chances had to come as those around him began to link.
Andreas Weimann was unable to direct a header on target after Luna picked him out at the back post midway through the half as chances were kept at a minimum while Villa pressed.
Benteke, despite his iffy start, proved once again to his manager just why Villa made such an effort to keep him at the club this season and in first half injury time, the striker pealed off Cahill before bringing Agbonlahor’s low cross under control and squeezing a strike past Petr Cech to bring his team level.
The game’s pace rocketed into life in the second period but Chelsea were initially inable to break Villa. The away side matched their pace and stood firm to any surges forward, Fabian Delph in particular shinning in the heart of the midfield, both defensively and going forward.
Villa, in fact, had the edge going forward and wasted two golden chances just after the hour mark. First Agbonlahor curled a first time effort agonisingly close that had Lambert’s head in his hands as he watched it fly just over, before Benteke clipped a neat ball into Wemiann at the back post, the Austrian forcing a good save from the Chelsea keeper.
Chances came and Romelu Lukaku and Andre Schurrle came on for the non-existent Mata and Ba. The change took Chelsea up another gear as tensions began to rise. Benteke and Ivanovic continued to lash out at each other, the Serbian sending a flying arm into the forward and picking up a yellow in the process, it could have been worse according to the Villa manager.
"In my own opinion, yeah I do[think it was a sending off]," said Lambert after the game.
"I think it’s an elbow. I know it’s a physical game but I think it’s an elbow."
His opposite number, though, was not so sure.
"This is English football," was Mourinho's judgement.
"The referee did very very well and from minute one to minute 95 there was a real fight, a football fight, between Benteke and Ivanovic and I think that’s football."
Vlaar and Lukaku bumped shoulders heavily on the Chelsea right leading to a freekick to the home side and Chelsea, with their first real strike on Guzan’s goal in the half found the back of the net. Frank Lampard, who struck the back of the net on the weekend from a set-piece, fired in a cross and the Chelsea right-back rose above everyone to power a header home. Chelsea were back in the lead as the aggression levels in the ground threatened to boil over with 13 minutes remaining.
Agbonlahor and Ivanovic began to fly into their challenges as Lambert exchanged words with Mourinho, his back staff and anyone else he could in his technical area. Meanwhile Chelsea started to stretch their guests as they chased the game, with Lukaku linking the play and causing problems for Villa’s defence and their goal.
"Paul has a certain type of personality and behaviours on the bench and pushes for that," said Mourinho about the Villa boss after the game.
"He reminds me of myself ten years ago when I was complaining with every decision and I want to coach my team and at the same time have a whistle in my lips. He is the same."
Still though the lead remained a slender one and Villa sent out a helpful reminder or two. Spurst of pressure continued to come and when Benteke knocked a long ball down to an unmarked Weimann at the back post it took another good save from Cech to deny the Austrian once again with three minutes to go.
Back on the touchline and Lambert had almost reached boiling point. With two minutes remaining a floated cross into the box was headed by Benteke onto the arm of John Terry. The former England captain’s infringement went unpunished as the Villa manager hit the roof.
"Apparent penalty? It’s a handball. It’s there for everybody to see," exclaimed Lambert.
"You raise your hand in the penalty box, I think it’s a penalty. I think he [the referee] has missed two big decisions."
Still, though, Lamberts men couldn’t find an equalizer and as Villa’s protests to the referee continued after the whistle, Chelsea escaped with all three points on a difficult Wednesday night.