Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 20 News List

Ivanovic helps Chelsea extend lead with Villa win

AFP, BIRMINGHAM, England

Aston Villa’s Jores Okore scores a goal against Chelsea during their game at Villa Park in Birmingham, England, on Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

Branislav Ivanovic’s second-half goal earned Chelsea a 2-1 victory against Aston Villa as the Premier League leaders moved seven points clear at the top on Saturday.

Manchester City’s draw against Hull enabled Jose Mourinho’s side to extend their lead in the title race as the Blues boss finally claimed a first-ever win at Villa Park in six attempts.

Villa’s goal drought had ended at precisely the 11-hour mark after Jores Okore had canceled out Eden Hazard’s opener, yet Serbia defender Ivanovic had the final say with the winner midway through the second half.

It was not until that goal had gone in that Villa manager Paul Lambert opted to introduce Christian Benteke, whom he dropped from his starting line-up, but the Belgian striker could not stop his team sliding to within two points of the relegation zone.

A positive afternoon for Chelsea was completed when deadline day signing Juan Cuadrado, a Colombia international, was handed a 79th-minute debut as a substitute.

Chelsea moved ahead in the eighth minute through lead-up work from midfielders Oscar and Willian, the latter moving menacingly toward goal before his cross-shot was seamlessly swept home by Hazard.

It was a 13th strike of the campaign for the Belgium international and only the second goal Mourinho had ever seen his side score at Villa Park.

Villa supporters struggled to contain their mounting frustrations and a cluster of fans held up placards with big arrows which they pointed toward Thibaut Courtois’ goal.

Lambert expressed his bitter disappointment at the manner in which his team “threw the towel in” during their 5-0 thrashing against Arsenal the previous weekend.

There was no repeat of that lethargy in this feisty encounter. While Villa struggled to create clear-cut openings, Chelsea defender Gary Cahill could count himself somewhat fortunate to escape when Gabriel Agbonlahor’s shot appeared to strike his arm inside the penalty area.

Mourinho’s team lacked their early fluency and it was Villa who made the more purposeful opening to the second half, with Andreas Weimann driving a shot narrowly over the crossbar.

Then came the moment Lambert and Villa’s beleaguered support had been waiting for.

Carles Gil hoodwinked Oscar before accelerating down the left channel to cross to the far post, where Okore escaped his marker to head home.

Cue delirium at Villa Park as what will go down as the worst run in the club’s 141-year existence finally came to an end.

Mourinho has had few fond memories to previously recall at this stadium, yet his side at least had time on their side.

Swiftly, they reasserted their authority on the match with Willian twice seeing efforts flash agonizingly wide before the breakthrough arrived in the 66th minute.

Okore, having failed to clear his lines, turned from hero to villain as possession was gifted back to Cesar Azpilicueta, whose cross was emphatically converted by Ivanovic’s fine left-footed half-volley.

Within two minutes Benteke had been called upon, but he could not make a difference.

Instead it was left, predictably, to Mourinho to take center stage at the final whistle as he ventured onto the pitch to orchestrate the visiting Chelsea supporters’ celebrations.

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