In the build up to this vital clash, Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill said that Chelsea had to beat his side to stand any chance of winning the title. Nicolas Anelka’s first half goal ensured that the Blues still have faint hope of taking the title back to Stamford Bridge.

The Frenchman struck in the 19th minute and Chelsea dominated the first half. Villa rallied after the break, but a lack of quality in the final third ensured that Chelsea held on for a vital three points that lifts them back into third.

Hiddink - who insists that he will walk away from the club in the summer - chose not to radically alter the side that beat Waford 3-1 in the FA Cup last weekend. Paulo Ferreira came in at left back in place of the suspended Ashley Cole. Jose Bosingwa and John Terry also returned, and Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka were again paired together up front.

It was the former who had the first effort on target of the match, a low shot that Brad Friedel gathered with ease.

Some slack goalkeeping from Petr Cech presented Emile Heskey with Aston Villa’s first opportunity, but under pressure from Terry he fired over the bar.

In a lively opening, both Frank Lampard and Gabriel Agbonlahor had shots on goal, before Anelka put Chelsea ahead with an extremely well worked goal.

The goal owed much to the quick feet of Lampard, who wriggled past Stillian Petrov and Curtis Davies with some neat footwork before playing in Anelka, who chipped the ball over the onrushing Friedel and into the net.

It was his 21st goal of the season and his first in the league for over two months.

Villa’s play belied their lofty league position and but for Brad Friedel Terry could have added a second from a corner.

But with players with the class of Ashley Young and Agbonlahor, Villa were always going to fashion chances. Mark Halsey provided Young with a chance from a free kick after rather harshly penalising John Obi Mikel for bringing down Emile Heskey.

The England international stepped up and crashed his shot against the bar with Cech motionless.

Terry again troubled Villa with another header after the break - this time Petrov was on hand to head off the line.

Whatever was said at half time by Martin O’Neill seemed to revitalise his side. Limp and lacklustre in the first period, O’Neill’s team looked in the ascendancy. Agbonlahor forced Cech into a save at his near post and the Czech international was also called into action by Gareth Barry as the game moved into the final 20 minutes.

Barry had another effort on 74 minutes, but shot too close to Cech.

As the game entered its closing stages Chelsea rediscovered their attacking verve which had deserted them for the majority of the second half.

Drogba - who didn’t have his finest game in a Chelsea shirt - shot well over after the ball fortuitously broke to him. But the Ivorian did show a glimpse of his old self when he held the ball up and played in Bosingwa, who rather disappointing fired straight at Friedel.

The much maligned Deco - who replaced Salomon Kalou - then went on a mazy run, beating two players in a tight spot and then weaving his way into the box where he set up Michael Ballack, whose rasping shot was tipped over by Friedel.

That proved to be the last action of an absorbing match. This was a Chelsea performance reminiscent of the days of Jose Mourinho. A lead would be gained and then held on to through a mix of retention of possession and solid defending. Hiddink’s Chelsea did just that today.

This defensive steel will be needed to keep on the heels of an imperious looking Manchester United.


I spent Saturday afternoon out walking without a radio or mobile 'phone. When I got home I was frantic to know how Chelsea had performed against Villa. I decided to check the CfJ website in the hope that Alan might have filed a match report. He has;it is excellent and for the very first time I have been able to use our own journalism to keep me informed about a matter of importance. Brilliant. Now, who is going to cover Prime Minister's Questions for me? Oh, and would someone fancy going to watch Partick Thistle? Firhill is not quite as glamorous as Stamford Bridge but it is a lot cheaper and you never have to buy a ticket in advance.    

Glad I could keep you informed. Yesterday's match could prove to be pivotal in our season. It should provide the players with a boost and spur them on to salvage something from a season that was in danger of petering out towards the end of Scolari's time in charge.

Good article mate. As you say and as I thought when listening to the match, Chelsea appeared to have the mixture of grinding out results type performance like under JM and that flair we have seen under both JM and at times Scolari. Though rather than wilting under Villa pressure in the second half, we did alright and closed out the game, which in my opinion rarely happened under Scolari.

As you say, "the defensive steel" will be needed, but there were enough signs yesterday to suggest United could go on a bad run sooner rather than later after Blackburn gave them a good game. However, whether United will go on a drastically bad run and whether we will do enough to catch and overtake them and Liverpool, is a different story entirely. However, we looked dead and buried last season and almost knicked it, whilst Arsenal gained the title in 1998 despite being 12 points behind United in late February, March time.

So I guess Hiddink and Chelsea could yet challenge.

Oh and PS about Drogba: I thought he held up the ball well and worked hard, but he seems very unlikely to score at the moment. I've heard worse from him and at least, like most of the others in the team, at least we seem to be getting a greater determination back in our play. And we finally won at Villa for the first time since 1999, when Tore Andre Flo bagged a brace and Bjarne Goldbaek netted. Now, that is something to marvel at...

Roll on Claudio and Wednesday night...

Thanks Stuart.

It did remind me of so many of the games under JM away from home against the likes of Blackburn, Everton etc. We didn't seem to have that under Scolari, I was never totally assured that we'd hold onto a lead once we'd gained it. 

With regards to the title race, I still hold out a faint hope that we can win it. As you say United have thrown it away before and not many people expected us to chase United so close last season. We will need to go on a very good run, we cant afford to lose any more than one or two games.

I can't see United losing two or three games but last night showed that they aren't totally infallible: Blackburn should have had a penalty and Ronaldo could so easily have been sent off (and should have been in my opinion) for his latest bout of petulance.

I'm really looking forward to Wednesday, it'll be my first Champions League game since that night in Moscow. There's nothing quite like CL nights.

Hiddink's golden touch rejuvenates Chelsea