Chelsea were left hanging on until the last as they edged a thriller at the Stadium of Light to beat Sunderland 4-3 and remain four points behind Arsenal at the top of the Premier League. Despite being bottom of the table, Sunderland provided Jose Mourinho’s men with a real scare throughout and took the lead after 14 minutes through Jozy Altidore’s first goal for the club. Frank Lampard soon equalized, though, before two fine strikes by Eden Hazard, sandwiching one from John O’Shea at the other end kept Chelsea in front. Phil Bardsley then scored first into his own net and then into Chelsea’s in the closing minutes to cause a tense and entertaining finale.
With Chelsea having already dropped 10 points on the road this season, the win, if not the performance, will be a welcome one for Mourinho. It also represents the first time since October that Chelsea have won back-to-back matches in the Premier League. In his first time managing a side against the club he played for with distinction for four years, Sunderland boss Gustavo Poyet will also take positives from the fixture. Yet, with just eight points to show from 14 games, it is positive results that are needed.
It looked like they might get one when Altidore, surprisingly selected in place of Steven Fletcher, struck the opening goal. A free-kick on the edge of the box struck the wall and was knocked into the path of Altidore in the box with his back to goal. The United States international reacted instinctively, too quickly for John Terry, to turn onto his left foot and strike past Petr Cech.
The lead would last three minutes, as Chelsea took control of the game. Hazard supplied a fine cross from the left and Lampard, for the umpteenth time in his long career, was in the right spot at the right time to head down and into the net from inside the six-yard box.
In the 36th minute, the visitors were in front, with Hazard going from creator to scorer. Receiving the ball on the left, the Belgian’s fancy footwork saw him cut inside past two Sunderland defenders before he fired in a strong low shot from the edge of the box that found the far corner of the net.
It was not to prove a comfortable night for Chelsea, though. Five minutes after the interval, some slack defending by the visitors from a corner allowed O’Shea to fire into the net and bring the scores level once more.
Chelsea were soon back in front with Hazard netting a goal that bore an uncanny resemblance to his first. After a neat one-two with Lampard, Hazard was again allowed to cut in on his favored right foot and, this time from closer range, he blasted the ball past Vito Mannone.
The result appeared to have been put beyond all doubt six minutes from time when Bardsley haplessly turned Demba Ba’s low cross into his own goal after a quick counter. Yet, Sunderland still refused to go down meekly. Just two minutes after scoring at the wrong end, Bardsley capitalized on some more lackluster defensive work from Chelsea on a corner to ensure a nervous conclusion to the contest. Sunderland, though, couldn’t find another goal as Chelsea breathed a hefty sigh of relief.