Cole's late strike denies Stoke

LONDON - Ashley Cole was the unlikely hero as Chelsea scored a dramatic late winner to finally breach Stoke's resistance at Stamford Bridge yesterday.

The England defender stole in with five minutes left to prod in Juan Mata's flick and keep Chelsea three points clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Potters threatened to cause an upset when Jonathan Walters headed onto Cech's crossbar before half-time.

Stoke manager Tony Pulis threw Michael Owen on as he sensed victory, but it was Chelsea who snatched the points.

With Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich watching from the stands after his unscheduled visit to the training ground on Thursday, the onus was on Roberto Di Matteo to win - and win well.

But against a side as disciplined and obdurate as Stoke that was never likely to be straightforward, despite their woeful record at Stamford Bridge.

Their last league victory had come in April 1974 but with Di Matteo opting to leave captain John Terry and Frank Lampard on the sidelines this was not a familiar, forceful Chelsea of the recent past.

Rather than reinforce in the defensive midfield area after seeing Chelsea win the Champions League in May, Abramovich has invested in youth and attacking flair and almost all £80m of it was given its chance to shine against Stoke.

For 85 minutes the champions of Europe were kept, in large part, at arm's length by Stoke, who arguably created the better chances.

There was no shortage of artistry or imagination from the attacking quartet of Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar but for all Chelsea's flicks and faints, Stoke were rarely stretched.

Chelsea dominated the early exchanges with the quick feet of Hazard and the vision and craft of Mata to the fore.

But Stoke, starved of possession, stood firm to create the two best chances of the opening 45 minutes. – BBC Sport


Swansea 0 - 3 Everton

Chelsea 1 - 0 Stoke

Southampton 4 - 1 Aston Villa

WBA 1 - 0 Reading

West Ham 1 - 1 Sunderland

Wigan 1 - 2 Fulham

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