Chelsea See Off Blues  (Sky Sports)

Chelsea 2 Birmingham City 0

Chelsea's goal scorers Crespo and RobbenChelsea made it three straight wins in the festive period after a comfortable 2-0 win over struggling Birmingham City.

First half goals from Hernan Crespo and Arjen Robben made it eight victories on the trot for the Premiership champions, as they continue to march towards a second straight league title.

Birmingham's woes at the other of the Premiership table continue, as the visitors were unable to unsettle their hosts on Saturday.

Blues boss Jose Mourinho recalled Frank Lampard to his line-up after he missed the midweek win at Manchester City though illness, while Crespo replaced Didier Drogba in attack.

Robben came in for Damien Duff on the left-hand side, with the Republic of Ireland international left out of the squad entirely.

William Gallas replaced Asier del Horno at left back and Paulo Ferreira came in for Geremi at right back; midfield anchorman Claude Makelele started on the substitutes' bench.

Birmingham boss Steve Bruce, meanwhile, gave a start to Uruguayan hit-man Walter Pandiani in attack, but the visitors were without on-loan Jiri Jarosik, as the Czech Republic international was ineligible to play against his parent club Chelsea.

Jamie Clapham was unavailable because of a knee injury knee he sustained in the midweek 2-2 draw with Manchester United, as winger Julian Gray was brought into the Birmingham line-up.

A packed New Year's Eve crowd at Stamford Bridge saw Chelsea struggle in the early stages to break Birmingham's backline down.

Maik Taylor's confident save from Michael Essien's strike was the only chance of note for the home side in the first quarter hour.

In fact, the visitors fired a warning shot when Joe Cole's poor pass to Lampard was intercepted by Walter Pandiani before the striker struck just wide of the Chelsea goal.

Chelsea kept pressing and forced a couple of corners, from where centre back Matthew Upson sustained an injury that forced him off after just 11 minutes, with Olivier Tebily coming on in his place.

To their credit, Birmingham worked their way into the contest and had the first real chance of the match from Jermaine Pennant's free kick.

His set-piece found Stephen Clemence unmarked at the far post and his strike beat the onrushing Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal, but Gallas was on hand to clear the ball off the goal line.

Moments later, Damien Johnson struck a shot over the crossbar from the edge of Chelsea's box before Emile Heskey went close with a close-range header that went just over the bar from Nicky Butt's clipped cross.

Yet, it was from a good Birmingham spell that Chelsea broke the deadlock and somewhat against the run of play, as Cole and Crespo exchanged passes before the England man slipped a fine through ball into the Birmingham box for Robben.

The Dutchman forced a good diving save from Taylor with his close range shot, but the rebound fell to Crespo, who slipped the ball into an empty net.

The visitors soon responded, but Pandiani and Pennant were unable to find the target with their efforts before Crespo squandered three excellent chances to score his second goal of the match.

The first came from a defensive mix-up between Birmingham's Martin Taylor and captain Kenny Cunningham, as the pair got their wires crossed in going for a loose ball, thus allowing Cole to win possession.

He broke in unmarked on goal before passing to Crespo, but with the goal gaping, the Argentine took an extra touch and that allowed the back-tracking Gray to dispossess him before he could shoot, as the chance went begging.

From the same sequence, Robben brilliantly picked out Crespo with a first-time ball from the right flank, but with only Taylor to beat, the South American's fierce volley was brilliantly blocked away for a corner by the Northern Ireland international.

Crespo's unfortunate luck in front of goal continued after the striker could only find the crossbar with a far post header to Gallas's cross from the left before Lampard stung the hands of Taylor with a free-kick strike.

Chelsea's superiority finally brought a deserved second goal two minutes before the break, as the home side won possession back in Birmingham's half before Eidur Gudjohnsen set up an unmarked Robben on the left.

The onrushing Dutchman easily slipped his strike past Taylor to give Chelsea a 2-0 half time lead.

The second half saw the home side maintain comfortable control of the contest, with Taylor making a great save from Gudjohnsen's volleyed effort, while Crespo headed the rebound against the bar before being deemed in an offside position by the near-side linesman.

Moments later, Gudjohnsen picked out Crespo on the edge of the Birmingham box, but the Argentine was again denied by Taylor, as his shot struck the goalkeeper's legs.

Then from a Chelsea break, Lampard picked out an unmarked Crespo in the Birmingham box, but his curling effort was well held by Taylor.

Crespo was then replaced by Drogba on 69 minutes before the home side had another quality goalscoring chance, as captain John Terry nearly extended their lead with a header from Lampard's corner, but Johnson was able to clear off the line for Birmingham.

The latter stages of the contest saw both sides go through the motions right up to the final whistle, as Chelsea ran out easy winners to round off 2005.


Chelsea  Cech, Gallas, Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, J. Cole, Essien (Makelele 76), Lampard, Crespo (Drogba 70), Gudjohnsen, Robben (Wright-Phillips 60)
Subs Not Used  Cudicini, Johnson
Booked  Essien
Goals  Crespo 25, Robben 43

Birmingham City  Maik Taylor, Cunningham, Martin Taylor, Upson (Tebily 12), Butt, Clemence (Kilkenny 60), Gray, Johnson, Pennant, Heskey (Birley 65), Pandiani
Subs Not Used  Vaesen, Painter

Attendance  40,652

Referee  M. Dean

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