Two points and one position separated the fifth and sixth place sides at the time of kickoff. That would change after 90 minutes.
After 15 minutes, though, both sides were attacking carefully as Chelsea, on only two days rest, perhaps worked out the kinks in their joints and muscles. Bolton's Matty Taylor had probably the best chance thus far on 22 minutes. He rifled a low shot from 18 yards left just outside of Cech's far post.
Johan Elmander drew a professional foul from Branislav Ivanovic a few minutes later, forcing the referee to brandish the first yellow card of the game.
The rest of the half consisted of mostly Chelsea possession without any remarkably clear chances for either side. Bolton were very strong at the back and very recalcitrant to admit Chelsea's assumed superiority. The first frame ended at nils apiece with neither side even putting a shot on frame.
Four minutes into the second half provided the best chance from either so far. Frank Lampard carried solo through midfield before sending Drogba through with a delicate curling pass. The Ivorian's excellent shot sent far and low was odds-on going in, but somehow hit the post, bouncing back to the attending defender.
Both teams were playing excellent soccer on both sides of the ball; Bolton flowing forward through Elmander, Chelsea constantly building through their robust midfield. Most players on each side were enjoying an excellent day individually.
Chelsea scored at 60 minutes after beating Bolton's offside trap. Essien powered past two Bolton players in midfield before placing Drogba's through. The forward squared at the byline for the onrushing Malouda to tap in. The Londoners led 1-0.
Bolton had a great chance to equalize almost immediately after, but, of several other capable attackers, the chance fell to Sam Ricketts who blazed over from ten yards.
Kevin Davies kept nodding long punts onto Elmander who continued looking dangerous. Taylor swung in various free-kicks of varying danger. On the whole, Chelsea were on the backfoot. Ivan Klasnic joined the fray in the 71st.
Some minutes later Stewey Holden forced a decent save from Peter Cech after heading Ricketts' cross goalwards. Bolton boss Owen Coyle made another attack-minded change thereafter bringing in Martin Petrov for Taylor.
Both teams looked increasingly knackered from the frenetic pace thereby slowing the overall pace of the final minutes.
Chelsea continued having their moments, though. Drogba forced a goal-line clearance from Fabrice Muamba on 81 minutes after a Chelsea corner. Cole and Malouda flew down the left touchline on unsuccessful counterattacks.
Bolton didn't give up either. But they should have, since they ended up not scoring anyway. Chelsea saw out stoppage time expertly to win 1-0, much to their manager's visible relief.
Bolton deserved a point today. But Chelsea needed three from this match more than Bolton needed one. Hopefully, Wanderers chalk this one up to the cosmos and preserve the confidence gained today for future matches.
Cech: 6:Not a lot to do, as is the case with most goalkeepers most matches.
Terry: 7:Very good display from the somehow athletic Englishman. Yelled and complained as a requisite. Also cleared headers all the time and played maturely with composure.
Ivanovic: 7.5: I wonder where Chelsea got the idea to sign a little-known Serbian center-back? Ivanovic is different than Vidic but not much worse, at all.
Bosingwa: 6.5: Imperfect but dangerous and effective. There is no reason besides injury why Ferreira should ever be starting instead of him.
Cole: 6.5: Very good.
Lampard: 6.5: Still recovering from a long-term injury. Did some good things, made some mistakes. Touch went astray here or there. Overall a positive 90 minutes for one of the best players in England over the last decade.
Essien: 7: Class is ever-present, though form comes and goes. His may be coming, but on today's evidence it had not totally arrived yet. Still, very few could emulate his stylistic run that setup the game's only goal.
Ramires: 6: Played about as good as he should have.
Malouda: 6.5: Strength, speed and great cardio. Touch may have been slightly off.
Drogba: 7.5: Always dangerous. More than a goalscorer. Won headers time and again, sent in crosses, held on to the ball brilliantly and basically did everything an attacker can do without scoring on any given matchday.
Anelka: 4: The poorest outfield player on the pitch today.
Jaaskeleinen: 6.5: Had more to do than his opposite number and did it all with repute.
Knight: 7.5: Put up real well against Drogba who, on paper, should've outclassed him.
Cahill: 7.5: Wish I had this player on my team.
Robinson: 7: He's not as good as he played today, but screw it, congratulations to him.
Ricketts: 7: Forward and backward like a good wingback.
Holden: 8: Looks far more comfortable than anyone could have hoped. Away to Chelsea and this American kid is just as unphased, if not more, than his teammates. Got stuck-in against Essien and loved it.
Muamba: 7.5: Strong and burly against world-class Essien. Muamba also played some nice forward passes and facilitated his side's attack instead of detracting from it (like many holding midfielders may.)
Taylor: 7: Sent in various free-kicks of varying danger. Was well up for this game and it showed on his visage and in his tenacity.
Rodrigo: 5.5: Slightly better than Anelka if only by virtue of appearing to care more.
Elmander: 8.5: Uses his body and balancing outstandingly. Retains possession and dumps off skillfully to overlapping teammates with ease. Great game today from a Berbatov-type player who is more athletic than his prototype.
Davies: 7.5: Why is his name pronounced "Day-vees" when it's clearly spelled "Day-viss"? Answer me that and I'll qualify my valuation of him.
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