LONDON: Chelsea rode their luck to emerge with a second win in as many Premier League games on Wednesday after Branislav Ivanovic escaped a red card and then his marker to head them to a 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
Moments after the Serb had walked away with a caution after he appeared to elbow Villa striker Christian Benteke, the defender rose to power a free kick from Frank Lampard into the back of the net and apply a gloss to a lacklustre Chelsea display.
It was not the only decision that drew the ire of the Aston Villa dugout as, deep in stoppage time, John Terry parried the ball with a flailing arm, unseen by referee Kevin Friend.
That incident ensured a match, which came to life only when Benteke cancelled out an early own goal from Antonio Luna, ended with Chelsea chalking up their second home win of the campaign.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech made two excellent second-half saves from Andreas Weimann
“I think in this moment, if we are here with a draw, it wouldn’t be an unfair result,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho told reporters.
“They don’t play a lot but they fight a lot. They create great difficulties.
“If Petr doesn’t save that one (from Weimann) we probably don’t get a point.”
His Villa counterpart, Paul Lambert, laid the blame for the defeat squarely with the referee.
“I think we were done by two bad decisions,” he said.
Chelsea were handed the opener on a plate. Oscar set Eden Hazard through down the left and the Belgian’s side-footed finish was parried by Villa keeper Brad Guzan into the path of Luna, who, oblivious to the danger, bundled it into his own net.
Weimann was caught off-guard by a cross from the left that found him unmarked in the box on 20 minutes and a long-distance effort from Karim El Ahmadi that flew wide were rare bright spots for Villa.
There was little ambition on Chelsea’s part, however, to cut loose. Mourinho’s call for them to exhibit a ruthless streak and destroy teams had appeared to fall on deaf ears among his players.
While their stranglehold on possession was almost total, Mourinho’s natural caution ensured the gameplan remained to choke Villa rather than go for the jugular.
The creative trio of Oscar, Hazard and Juan Mata were reunited after the latter sat out their opening win over Hull City, but there was little driving forward momentum.
Benteke ensured Chelsea paid the price with the leveller on the stroke of halftime.
Gabriel Agbonlahor followed an injection of pace down the left with a low cross that found Benteke in space. He switched it from his right foot to his left and blasted home from 10 metres out for his third goal in two games this season.
The final controversy however came in stoppage time when Villa were denied a clear penalty. Terry jumped to clear a cross from Delph, but caught the ball with his flailing arm.
As the Villa bench leapt up from their seats, Friend waved away their appeals. (Reuters)