Youngster Cole Sends Sunderland Closer  (Sky Sports)

Sunderland 1 Chelsea 2

Carlton Cole
Sunderland  1-2  Chelsea 
Thornton 12   Zola,
Cole 85
Barclaycard Premiership

Carlton Cole scored a superb late winner for Chelsea to send bottom-of-the-table Sunderland a step closer to relegation in a tight contest at the Stadium of Light.

With just five minutes remaining, Substitute Cole combined with Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink before turning and curling a left-foot shot past Thomas Sorensen to hand Chelsea three valuable points in their chase for Champions League football.

The home side had gone ahead through a 12th minute Sean Thornton goal, though Chelsea equalised with a deflected Gianfranco Zola volley before England under-21 international Cole broke Black Cats hearts. 

Claudio Ranieri's side were made to fight all the way for the three points as Sunderland turned in their best performance for months but still could not avoid a club record-equalling ninth successive league defeat.

Bolton's win over Manchester City earlier in the day means Mick McCarthy's men could effectively be only one game from relegation, and while that has been seemingly inevitable for some time, their performance was worthy of more.

Indeed, the home supporters among a crowd of 40,011, who have delivered more than their fair share of boos in recent weeks, gave their side a standing ovation on the final whistle despite the knowledge that their fate is all but sealed.

McCarthy has promised that if his side are to go down, they will go down fighting, and that philosophy had clearly had an effect as his players produced an excellent opening 45 minutes.

The manager went for broke by throwing Marcus Stewart and Kevin Kyle up alongside Kevin Phillips in attack, and the ploy worked as the Blues found life increasingly uncomfortable.

Kyle, so often the target of the critics in the stand, proved a real handful while Phillips looked as sharp as ever, but it was Stewart who helped to fashion the early breakthrough on 12 minutes when he sent in a cross which was deflected by Mario Melchiot.

The ball dropped for Frank Lampard, but he could only head it as far as Thornton, who controlled with his chest before smashing an unstoppable volley past Carlo Cudicini.

It should have been 2-0 five minutes later when Kyle's wayward header from a Thornton corner fell for Stewart at the back post, but he sent the ball agonisingly wide as he slid in at full stretch.

Chelsea had their moments, but two superb interceptions by Talal El Karkouri denied Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and then Melchiot, while Thomas Sorensen saved from Zola after the Italian had deftly controlled Graeme Le Saux's long ball.

But the visitors emerged in more determined mood after the break and signalled their intentions from the off as Zola tested Sorensen with a curling right-foot effort and then Cole, on at the break for Enrique de Lucas, shot over from close range.

Cudicini kept out Gavin McCann's long-range effort as the home side rallied, but Ranieri's side were back on terms just seven minutes into the half when, after Cole had headed down William Gallas' cross, Zola's shot was deflected past Sorensen by the unfortunate El Karkouri.

It could have been even worse for the Black Cats seconds later after Hasselbaink raced clear and rounded the Dane before slotting home, but referee Dermot Gallagher ruled that he had handled the ball on his way to goal and chalked the effort off.

The game became increasingly tense as both sides struggled to create chances, but it was Sunderland who began to look the more dangerous, Cudicini stretched two when McCann tested him with a perfectly-struck volley which he had to beat away as it dipped under the crossbar.

But just as it looked as though McCarthy's men would get something out of the game, Cole turned smartly on Hasselbaink's shot pass before blasting a left-footshot past Sorensen.

Thornton came within inches of an equaliser with three minutes remaining when his free-kick clipped the outside of the post and ran to safety on an afternoon when the margin between success and failure proved agonisingly small.

MAM OF THE MATCH: Frank Lampard (Chelsea): Controlled the midfield with another good all-round performance


Sunderland: Sorensen, Gray, El Karkouri, Bjorklund, Williams, McCann, Thornton, Kilbane (McCartney 86), Phillips, Kyle, Stewart.
Subs Not Used: Poom, Babb, Proctor, Arca.
Booked: El Karkouri.

Cudicini, Gallas, Desailly, Terry, Melchiot, Morris, Lampard, De Lucas (Cole 45), Le Saux, Zola (Zenden 88), Hasselbaink (Oliveira 90).
Subs Not Used: de Goey, Huth.
Booked: Cole.

Ref: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

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