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Ashley Cole saved the day for Chelsea as they edged a 1-0 victory against Stoke City to go three points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich looked on as the Blues unleashed their trio of attacking midfielder - Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata - for the first time behind Fernando Torres, but it took an 85th-minute foray up front by Cole, who finished a flowing move, to earn his side a narrow win.
It could easily have been a fourth straight match without victory for Chelsea as Fernando Torres was unable to score while Jonathan Walters hit the crossbar for Stoke, who arguably had the better of the chances, against a side without John Terry or Frank Lampard in the starting line-up.
Walters' chance came on 20 minutes when he rose umarked to thump a header from Glenn Whelan’s free-kick against the bar, while Michael Kightly almost redirected Geoff Cameron’ s fizzing cross past Petr Cech. Chelsea's best chances of the half came when Torres was one-on-one with Asmir Begovic but missed his kick, while David Luiz smashed a shot high.
After the interval Chelsea and Oscar came to life and the Brazilian tested Begovic with a low shot before Mata shot wide after a defensive mix-up. Stoke responded by sending on Michael Owen for Charlie Adam but Chelsea almost cut them open when Mata was thwarted by a Richard Shawcross tackle.
Oscar was becoming more and more of a threat and his deflected low shot was saved by Begovic before he sent another mid-range shot narrowly wide. Stoke substitute Matthew Etherington then dragged a shot wide after John Obi Mikel had missed a chance after a pass by Torres.
Mikel departed for Lampard for the final nine minutes and, four minutes later, Chelsea finally had the breakthrough. A flowing build-up ended when Mata's back-heel found Cole, who lifted the ball beyond Begovic. A last-ditch Etherington tackle prevented Victor Moses from adding a second, but the Blues were happy with their narrow win.
|24 Feb 2013||v Man City (A)|
|21 Apr 2013||v Liverpool (A)|
|08 Dec 2012||v Sunderland (A)|
|19 May 2013||v Everton (H)|
|17 Mar 2013||v West Ham (H)|
|12 Jan 2013||v Stoke (A)|