Relentless Blues March On  (Sky Sports)

Chelsea 4 Crystal Palace 1

Joe Cole celebrates his goalChelsea's relentless march towards The Premiership title continued unabated as Jose Mourinho's side overcame a brave Crystal Palace 4-1 at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues ensured neither Manchester United nor Arsenal made any headway into their 11-point lead at the summit thanks to goals from Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Mateja Kezman (2).

Palace had briefly threatened to interrupt The Blues' serene progress with an equaliser to Lampard's opener from Aki Rihilaahti, but class ultimately told and there was even the added bonus for Chelsea fans of seeing Arjen Robben make his return to competitive action.

Jose Mourinho's men started brightly with the in-form Cole very much to the fore. The midfielder had an early sight of goal when he latched on to a Didier Drogba flick-on and fired in a snap shot that Gabor Kiraly held well.

Cole returned the compliment for Drogba on 13 minutes slipping the striker through on goal, but with time on his side the former Marseille star tried a first-time shot from an improbable angle which Kiraly gathered with ease.

The Hungarian was forced into a far better save shortly afterwards when Cole's clever ball inside Granville had given Damien Duff a clear shooting opportunity, but Kiraly blocked well with his legs.

The deadlock was broken on 29 minutes when the hitherto anonymous Frank Lampard announced himself on proceedings in some style.

Cole cut in off the left flank and squared for his England international colleague some 30 yards from goal, and Lampard unleashed a swerving effort that sailed past the despairing dive of Kiraly and into the corner.

The hosts should have doubled their advantage just three minutes later when Drogba slid the overlapping Glen Johnson in behind Tom Soares, but the full-back's finish lacked composure as he blazed wide of the near post.

Against the run of play, and much to the shock to the majority of Stamford Bridge, Palace pulled level three minutes from half-time, although Chelsea were far from happy about the corner kick which preceded the equaliser.

Johnson and Ricardo Carvalho clashed with the Portuguese stopper convinced the striker had got the last touch, but referee Phil Dowd thought otherwise.

Routledge's resulting set-piece was poor, but Lampard missed his clearance at the near post allowing the ball to run to Aki Rihilaahti who fired home via a deflection from six yards.

Drogba almost restored the lead with a spectacular bicycle kick that Kiraly tipped wide for a corner, but incredibly it was Palace who should have gone in ahead at the break as Johnson missed a golden opportunity to notch his 19th of the season.

It was, in truth, a terrible miss by the striker whose normal composure in front of goal deserted him as he dragged well wide of an unguarded net after Petr Cech had come and failed to gather a cross from the right.

Inevitably the miss was to prove costly as the hosts started the second period much the quicker of the two teams, and restored their lead with a well-worked goal on 54 minutes.

Eidur Gudjohnsen collected possession and rolled to Cole on the right hand edge of the area who steadied himself before firing through the legs of Granville and past Kiraly into the bottom corner.

Palace refused to be bowed, though, and continued to match the hosts for endeavour but struggled to prise a chance worthy of the name out of a typically tight Blues rearguard.

Arguably the biggest cheer of the afternoon arrived on 75 minutes when Arjen Robben made his eagerly-anticipated return to action in place of Duff.

The game ended as a contest just three minutes later following a dreadful howler from the otherwise impressive Kiraly.

Robben laid off to fellow substitute Mateja Kezman whose ambitious effort from the left somehow squirmed through Kiraly's arms and legs and trickled home much to the delight of the home fans.

The keeper went some way to redeeming himself moments later with a fine touch to deny Robben a goal on his return.

But the last word went to Kezman who reacted sharply to turn home from six yards after Lampard had seen his goal-bound shot blocked six yards from goal by a combination of Mikele Leigertwood.


Chelsea  Cech, Johnson, Ferreira, Carvahlo, Terry, Cole, Duff (Robben 74), Lampard, Makelele, Drogba (Tiago 63), Gudjohnsen (Kezman 77)
Subs Not Used  Cudicini, Huth
Booked  Terry
Goals  Lampard 29, Cole 54, Kezman 78, 90

Crystal Palace  Kiraly, Boyce, Granville, Hall, Leigertwood, Sorondo (Freedman 74), Hughes, Riihilahti (Watson 87), Routledge (Torghelle 73), Soares, Johnson
Subs Not Used  Speroni, Borrowdale
Riihilahti 42

Attendance  41,667

Referee   P. Dowd

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