LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19: Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea celebrates as he scores their fourth goal during the UEFA Champions League group E match between Chelsea and Genk at Stamford Bridge on October 19, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
This was not a game that Chelsea would have won two months ago. It wasn't even a game Chelsea should have won now. Wigan Athletic aren't a team that this club should struggle against at Stamford Bridge, but much like the Benfica match the Blues were made to work far too hard when they should have cruised.
The Latics delivered a sucker-punch against Chelsea earlier this season when they snatched a 1-1 draw at the DW Stadium, and this match looked to be heading in a similar direction from the very beginning. An uninspiring opening half featured no Wigan chances but basically nothing doing for Chelsea either - Juan Mata had a well-worked shot saved by Ali Al-Habsi and Florent Malouda swung in a cross for Didier Drogba which was again stopped smartly, but there was a reason the crowd spent more time admiring the antics of a local pigeon than actually watching the game.
The second half wasn't going much better. Chelsea were on the front foot but the passing was a bit of a mess, and although Al-Habsi was called into action a few times nothing particularly interesting went down until the introduction of Fernando Torres for the astonishingly ineffective Malouda. Three minutes later, Chelsea were ahead.
It was right back Branislav Ivanovic who set the stage for the goal. A burst down the right channel which was the big Serbian evade a pair of Wigan defenders was eventually ended by Shaun Maloney, who received a yellow card for his troubles, and Chelsea made their guests pay from the free kick, with Raul Meireles putting a partially-cleared ball back into the mixer for Ivanovic to thump home. From about seven yards offside.
Chelsea looked down at the linesman for the inevitable flag, but since it did not appear to be forthcoming opted to celebrate their good fortune rather than worry overmuch about the technicalities. Wigan, meanwhile, were justifiably irate - the whole team surrounded the hapless assistant demanding that the goal be un-given, but that was never ever going to happen. It should have, though. It was a woefully unfair way to go ahead, and I can completely forgive Roberto Martinez's post-game comments about the poor officiating:
I don't know what was wrong. It was really disappointing to see that the linesman was not helping the referee. For me to speak with them now would be a waste of time. We've had clear, clear calls against us this season. I don't want to go into a debate to say 'it is very easy to referee against little Wigan'. But unfortunately I believe this is the best league in the world and you should get better decisions.
Someone asked me is it time to bring in technology, no it is time to bring a referee or linesman who knows the rules. We don't need technology for that. I'd better laugh about it because it is really cruel.
-Source: Sky Sports.
His team did some talking on the field as well, scything through Chelsea's defence after the kickoff and forcing a goalline clearance from Ivanovic, who was responsible for a swing of two goals in as many minutes. The opener, however, didn't result in a sustained spell of pressure from the visitors, and the Blues seemed more than happy to soak up anything Wigan could throw at them and then reply with quick, clever counterattacks.
Daniel Sturridge had a chance to put the Chelsea further head after being played through by Drogba only to completely miscue his chance, and Torres was finding himself in acres of space only to fall over whenever he got the ball. While the Stamford Bridge crowd found Torres' struggles comedic, they were markedly less sympathetic towards Sturridge, who suffered the indignity of being booed at his home ground*.
*I'm not going to tell anyone what they can and can't do as a fan, of course, bit it was pretty sad to hear a young player who's scored twelve goals in one season get booed at the Bridge by our own supporters.
Any guilt over the way in which the Blues grabbed their opener evaporated once Gary Caldwell managed to get away with a blatant handball in the penalty area and when Torres was called offside in a one on one when he definitely wasn't, but soon after that I was back to rooting for a random moment of cosmic injustice towards Wigan because Mohamed Diame managed to absolutely belt home the equaliser in the 82nd minute.
It really was a superb goal - the substitute evaded Raul Meireles and Ryan Bertrand and unleashed a howitzer of a left-footed shot that screamer past a stationary Petr Cech, hitting the back of the net hard enough to send little animals scurrying into their hiding holes for miles around (farewell pigeon, we barely knew ye). It was deja vu for the Blues, and it left me punching random pieces of furniture for the next ten minutes as Chelsea looked completely disjointed in their search for a winner.
And then the magic happened. Drogba swung in a cross and Torres was free. Instead of falling on his bottom, which he'd been making a habit of, Torres instead blasted a wonderful volley that beat Al-Habsi only to ricochet off the right-hand post, off Mata and in for the winner. It was the 92nd minute, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I missed the rest of the game due to dancing around my apartment like a moron.
So, we ended up winning a game we shouldn't have, but we've failed to win a bunch of games we should have anyway, so I'm not too fussed about getting a bit of luck now when we desperately need it. Now we just need to win five more in a row and we can all feel good about the season...
Chelsea's man of the match?
Branislav Ivanovic (131 votes)
Juan Mata (53 votes)
David Luiz (13 votes)
Ryan Bertrand (61 votes)
Raul Meireles (4 votes)
Other (35 votes)
297 total votes