Premier League - Late strikes ease Chelsea past Wigan

Premier League, Stamford Bridge – Chelsea 4 (Ramires 23, Hazard 56, Lampard 87, Marin 90+2) Wigan 1 (Maloney 58)

Chelsea held their nerve to bag under-pressure manager Rafa Benitez a crucial 4-1 win over Wigan at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League.

Having built themselves into a good position after Ramires rounded off a slick move midway through the first half, and Eden Hazard added a second, panic once again threatened to set in.

Shaun Maloney immediately hit back after rounding Petr Cech and finishing from out wide, and Wigan went out in pursuit of an equaliser.

They had their moments, but an 87th-minute strike from Frank Lampard, drilled low beyond Ali Al-Habsi, finally settled the contest, and substitute Marko Marin nodded in a rebound in injury time to add further gloss to the scoreline.

The score was unflattering to the Latics, but it might have been still worse had it not been for a brilliant double-save from Al-Habsi at the death to deny Ramires and then Fernando Torres.

Chelsea return to third in the table after having briefly been deposed by Tottenham, who beat Newcastle earlier in the day.

Juan Mata was a notable absentee from the Chelsea line-up, relegated to the substitutes’ bench with a virus. Another Spaniard, Torres, started ahead of Demba Ba.

With reports swirling around before kick off that a defeat could spell the end of interim manager Rafael Benitez’s reign, Chelsea began cautiously.

Wigan, unchanged from the eleven who started the 2-2 draw against Southampton a week ago, began brightly, with Franco di Santo and Shaun Maloney both drawing decent saves from Cech.

Chelsea did test out their visitors, Torres nodding just beyond the far post with Al-Habsi slipping and unable to protect his goal.

But though the Spaniard went goalless he played a key role in the opener, turning David Luiz’s pass deftly into Ramires’ path and allowing the Brazilian to place a finish past Wigan’s Omani stopper.

That put the Blues on the front foot, and Wigan had to weather the storm to make it to the interval without further damage. Al-Habsi expertly tipped a goal-bound header over the bar, while Lampard’s long-range effort snuck beyond the far post.

But at the start of the second half the momentum ebbed away once more, only restored by Hazard’s goal against the run of play.

Cesar Azpilicueta was allowed free rein down the right, afforded time to pick out a centre to the Belgian, whose first-time finish caught Al-Habsi flat-footed.

Chelsea had seen two-goal leads slip through their fingers against Southampton and Reading in recent weeks, and they must have feared the worst when Maloney instantly pulled a goal back.

He broke through the Chelsea defence with ease, then finished from a tight angle out wide with Cech committed.

Wigan enjoyed another strong spell, with Franco Di Santo a constant menace, and Arouna Kone sent on to provide support.

The closest they came to a goal, however, was a shout for a penalty when Ronnie Stam’s shot cannoned off Ashley Cole’s hand. From point-blank range, however, it was hard to see what else Cole could have done.

Chelsea looked nervy until Lampard struck. He has now scored in four Premier League games in a row, and the acting captain capped off another impressive week at domestic and international level with a crucial strike.

Marin’s first goal for the club was a bonus, as Wigan gave up their hopes and Chelsea pushed forward, but once again Torres was denied a goal.

Al-Habsi saved his best work for last, turning the Spaniard’s goal-bound effort around the far post at full stretch.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Eden Hazard (Chelsea) - A goal, an assist, and a constant threat which Wigan struggled to contain.

PLAYER RATINGS

CHELSEA: Cech 7, Azpilicueta 7, Ivanovic 6, Cahill 6, Cole 6, Luiz 6, Lampard 8, Ramires 8, Oscar 7, Hazard 8, Torres 6 – Subs - Turnbull, Ferreira, Bertrand, Benayoun N/A, Marin N/A, Mata N/A

WIGAN: Al Habsi 8, Scharner 5, Caldwell 7, Figueroa 6, McArthur 7, McCarthy 6, Stam 6, Beausejour 5, Espinoza 6, Maloney 7, Di Santo 7 – Subs - Kone 6, Jones N/A

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