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Chelsea guaranteed themselves a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League as Frank Lampard dragged his team back from the jaws of defeat with two goals that sunk Aston Villa and confirmed his own place in history as Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer.
In a thrilling match at Villa Park, in which both sides were reduced to 10 men, the impressive Christian Benteke gave his side a 14th-minute lead with his 19th Barclays Premier League goal of the campaign.
Matters worsened for the Blues shortly before half-time when Ramires was dismissed for a second bookable offence, but Benteke own dismissal on 58 minutes after also receiving a second yellow card proved the turning point of the match.
Within three minutes the visitors were level as Lampard sent a 20-yard effort past Brad Guzan and the same player popped up in the area with two minutes of normal time remaining to mark his 203rd goal for the Londoners – surpassing Bobby Tambling’s long-standing club record – and confirm a spirited victory.
Requiring victory to ensure top-flight salvation Villa's enterprising approach was rewarded when they went in front before the quarter-hour marlk with Benteke beating Gary Cahill to goalkeeper Brad Guzan's clearance and then peeling off at speed to take Yacouba Sylla's return pass. The Belgium striker powered past Cahill to slip a clever shot past goalkeeper Petr Cech at his near post.
Lampard came close to scoring on the half-hour, striking a low free kick that squirmed out of Guzan's hands and rolled gently against a post, but on the stroke of half-time they were down to 10 men when referee Lee Mason gave Ramires a second booking for a high challenge on Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez reshuffled his line-up at half-time, sending on David Luiz to anchor the midfield in place of Victor Moses, but Villa's extra man lasted only until Benteke was dismissed, again for a second yellow and again for high feet.
From Chelsea's next attack they were level and Lampard was celebrating his long-awaited record-equaling goal. Eden Hazard rolled the ball to him from the right flank, and the England international drifted into a more central position before unleashing a curling left-footed shot. He was duly mobbed by team-mates as he ran to the away supporters to take in the moment.
The frenetic pace continued, with Chelsea players believing they had gone ahead not long afterward. Former Villa defender Cahill took the ball on the chest before prodding goalward at the back post. Guzan was beaten but Sylla managed to trap it on the line. Demba Ba and Ashley Westwood both moved in, with the latter convincing officials he'd cleared the danger before the ball had crossed the line.
Terry then departed on a stretcher after suffering an injury that could jeopardise his hopes of playing in the UEFA Europa League final on Wednesday against Benfica, and the Blues would finish the match with nine men as Hazard also left the fray after seemingly damaging his hamstring.
Before then, however, Hazard had been involved in Lampard's record-breaking winner which arrived just two minutes from time. The Belgian international played a one-two down the left channel with Lampard before cutting the ball across goal for the midfielder to finish from close range. As so often in his Chelsea career, Lampard was in the right place at the right time to tap in with ease and spark frenzied celebrations among his team-mates.
The victory takes third-placed Chelsea on to 72 points, which means that fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who are six points behind, cannot knock them out of the top four due to the Blues’ superior goal difference. The battle for the remaining place will therefore be between Spurs and their north London rivals, Arsenal, who are a point above them in the standings.
For Villa, who have one match of their campaign to go, safety is still not guaranteed in this extraordinarily intriguing and unpredictable battle to avoid relegation. While a point would have virtually guaranteed Paul Lambert's side safety, defeat means they lie on 40 points, five above third-from-bottom Wigan Athletic, who still have two matches left to play.
Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez: "I said before, hopefully he can score two goals then we don't need to talk about Frank [Lampard any more]. It's a fantastic achievement for him to score the number of goals he has. Hopefully he can score more in the next two games."
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: "My own team were absolutely fantastic, they gave everything they had and certainly didn't deserve that.
"They were fabulous, you can see it in the crowd, the way we played - they're getting better and better. They certainly never deserved to lose the game."
|19 May 2013||v Wigan (A)|
|15 Dec 2013||v Aston Villa (H)|
|21 Dec 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|26 Dec 2013||v Aston Villa (H)|
|28 Dec 2013||v Aston Villa (H)|
|01 Jan 2014||v Sunderland (A)|