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Ton up Drogba seals Chelsea win

PARTY TIME: Didier Drogba celebrates after scoring at Stamford Bridge

DIDIER DROGBA'S 100th Premier League goal ensured it was a happy 107thbBirthday for the club as Chelsea gave Roberto Di Matteo his first league win as interim manager and crucially drew level with Arsenal in the race for the final Champions League spot.

However the Blues, who before this game had only won one of their last six league outings, made hard-work of beating a Stoke City side that were forced to play for 65 minutes with ten men after a senseless stamp by Ricardo Fuller on Branislav Ivanovic.

Stamford Bridge basked in bright sunshine prior to kick-off, perfect weather to honour the club’s Founders Day and Di Matteo, in charge for the first time at home since Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking, made four changes to the team that had won at St Andrew's in midweek.

Most notably there was a return for captain John Terry after his knee surgery, which meant that he started alongside £7m signing Gary Cahill for the first time, and Di Matteo also made the surprise decision to omit Juan Mata from the starting XI.

The Spaniard and compatriot Fernando Torres made way for Frank Lampard and Drogba but Salomon Kalou, who scored a hat-trick in this fixture back in 2010, retained his place to make his 150th Premier League appearance for the club. Ashley Cole also made a comeback from an ankle injury.

Stoke’s Andy Wilkinson recovered from a hamstring problem, sustained during the team’s 1-0 win against Norwich last weekend, and Tony Pulis opted for Kenwyne Jones and Ricardo Fuller as his strike-force, with Jon Walters switching to the left of midfield, to cover for the injured Matthew Etherington.

Peter Crouch was on the bench and Glenn Whelan missed out, both suffering from illness, and Salif Diao was handed his first start of the campaign to cover the latter.

Stamford Bridge has never been a fruitful place for the visitors, you have to go back to 1974 for the last time they secured a league win. However, they had been in good form of late, securing two successive league wins at the Britannia Stadium, whilst Chelsea had only managed one league win in six ahead of this fixture. So if there was a time for the Potters to secure their first points at the Bridge since being promoted in 2008, this game provided a good opportunity.

Pulis’ side might have felt some confidence right up until the 25th minute of the first-half when Fuller decided to lash out at Ivanovic, who was making his 100th league appearance, in what can only be described as a moment of sheer stupidity.

Before that, although Chelsea dominated possession and were creating numerous chances, they were wasteful in good positions. The best chance of the opening ten minutes came from Cahill, looking for his first goal for the Blues, who went on a fantastic surging run and then hit a powerful effort, which forced Asmir Begovic in the Stoke goal into a diving save to palm the ball away for a corner.

Chelsea midfielder Ramires then went on a promising run, fooling Ryan Shotton, but he was hacked down by Diao before he could get any further. Chelsea continued to create all the chances with Kalou sweeping the ball into the box from the left but Ramires was just unable to reach it.

Stoke had their first real chance of the game when they flooded forward, and Walters had two good opportunities in the area, his first shot was blocked by Cahill and his follow up then went well wide.

However, before they had any opportunity to build on this, came Fuller's moment of madness. Ivanovic and the Jamaican challenged for the ball and as the Serb slid into the tackle, he caught the striker’s leg with his follow through.

The enraged Fuller automatically retaliated, aggressively stamping on the defender’s thigh and as the Chelsea man writhed around in agony, referee Andre Marriner had no hesitation in brandishing a red card.

With Chelsea already in control, that decision should have made it game over. However, the opening goal continued to elude them. The crowd were getting frustrated and when Raul Meireles found himself in a good position, they demanded he shoot, which he did but his effort went well off-target. The Portugese midfielder did better with a lovely curling ball into the area towards Drogba but he was unable to connect.

Torres, who had he made an appearance in his game would have gone over 24 hours without scoring, received a huge cheer when warming up, around the same time as the Chelsea faithful chanted about how much they didn’t want Rafa Benitez at the club, in some ways ironic considering that the former Liverpool boss got so much out of the striker when they were both at Anfield.

Meireles made way for Mata with just 38 minutes on the clock and his creativity was on display within seconds of entering the game as he flicked the ball to stop it falling back to Shotton and then began a run before being fouled.

The chances kept coming until the half-time whistle; Lampard muscled past almost everyone in the box but the ball ran out for a corner and then Ivanovic on the right had a great opportunity as he chested down and shot just over the right-hand post from only a few yards out.

Ivanovic was replaced during the break by David Luiz and the second period continued in similar fashion to the first, with Chelsea bombarding the Stoke goal but failing to get themselves in the lead.

Begovic spilled Lampard’s shot and Drogba almost got to the rebound. Frustrations were summed up on 52 minutes. Mata rolled a free-kick to Lampard and the midfielder curled it across the area but again no one was there, prompting groans even from Di Matteo.

As Terry made a mazy run and then hit a long range drive that looked like it might creep in and then Cole sent a shot spiralling into the stands, Stoke might just started to think it was going to be their day.

Drogba then had one of the best chances of the game from a free-kick won by Lampard. Just a few yards outside the area, the 33-year-old curled it in superbly but Begovic produced a fantastic save.

However, whilst the goalkeeper won that duel, Drogba was to have his say just minutes later. Mata slipped a delightful ball into the area, threading it through the Potters' defence and into the path of the striker who evaded Begovic and went round him to finally fire his side into the lead, and in the process become the first African player to reach 100 Premier League goals.

Seconds later and Lampard unleashed a stinging drive which hit Begovic on the chest. After going behind, Stoke had quite a few chances, most of which came from set-pieces.

A mistimed clearance from Terry allowed substitute Cameron Jerome through on goal but he couldn’t fire his shot on target with only seven minutes left on the clock.

Chelsea thought they had wrapped up the game, with Mata again the creator after his free-kick hit the post. However, Daniel Sturridge who poked in the rebound was offside.

And the England hopeful was again involved as a great tackle from former Chelsea player Robert Huth stopped him having a clear shot at goal and the striker’s second attempt swerved just wide of the right-hand post as the game approached stoppage time.

It wasn’t a classic match by any means but as Di Matteo said in his pre-match press conference ‘it’s fine by me if we win 1-0.’

Three points, no matter how scrappy, will certainly inspire his side ahead of an important seven days which sees them try and claw back a 3-1 defecit against Napoli in the Champions League and then take on Leicester City for a place in the FA Cup semi-finals.

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