Frank Lampard double fires Chelsea to victory at Blackpool
Midfielder's second-half brace helps Blues close gap on leaders Man United to nine points with a game in hand
Chelsea narrowed the gap on Premier League leaders Manchester United to nine points with victory over Blackpool on Monday night.
John Terry nodded the visitors ahead after 20 minutes before man-of-the-match Frank Lampard hit a swift second-half brace to put Blues in control.
Jason Puncheon snatched a late goal for Ian Holloway’s men when his low drive beat Petr Cech but it proved merely a consolation as the Londoners claimed a valuable three points at a raucous Bloomfield Road.
The result sees Carlo Ancelotti’s side stay fourth, three points clear of Tottenham and nine points from the top with a game in hand.
Chelsea struggled to settle into a sustained rhythm early on despite last week’s vital victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s men at Stamford Bridge.
Blackpool boss Ian Holloway was bereft of defensive cover and opted for an attacking formation which saw Chelsea’s full-backs Ashley Cole and Jose Boswinga penned in and defending in the Blues’ half for long periods of the first half.
However, the visitors took the lead after 20 minutes when suspect defending allowed Terry to easily head Lampard’s corner past a despairing Richard Kingston in the Blackpool goal.
But the opener sparked an immediate response from the home side. With half-time approaching Puncheon’s rasping effort was superbly saved by Cech, who then had to be alert moments later when Ian Evatt’s cross drifted alarmingly towards the top-left corner, forcing the Czech Republic international to palm over the crossbar.
The half-time whistle signalled an unwelcome interlude for Holloway’s men with Chelsea struggling to cope with relentless Blackpool pressure as the Seasiders dominated possession.
Ancelotti had opted to pair Didier Drogba with Fernando Torres -who is still searching for his first Chelsea goal -in attack, but the duo had failed to disrupt Blackpool’s makeshift rearguard in the first half.
And the Ivory Coast striker was replaced by compatriot Salomon Kalou early in the second half after picking up a back injury.
Kalou, making his 93rd substitute appearance for the Blues, injected some much-needed vigour into the Chelsea frontline and his impressive display proved influential in sealing the win for the Londoners.
Evatt clumsily brought down Kalou in the box and Lampard calmly slotted away the 62nd-minute spot-kick to edge the Blues further in front.
And two minutes later Kalou’s delicate pass dissected the Blackpool defence to allow the England international to add his second of the night when he fired his low effort to Kingston’s right.
Despite the scoreline Blackpool rallied in the closing moments and their efforts were rewarded when Puncheon placed his shot past Cech in the 86th minute.
Moments later substitute Brett Ormerod almost shaved another goal off Chelsea’s lead but the veteran forward had his shot well blocked by Terry.
Blues boss Ancelotti refused to rule Chelsea out of the title race after the match. He said: “Our aim at this moment is to stay in the top four. We are closer to Manchester United but we have to prepare for the next game and prepare game by game.
“Now we have nine points and another game (in hand) against Birmingham but it is too far to think we can come back in to fight for the title. To take it game by game is easier for us.”
And Lampard was quick to echo his manager’s sentiments. “We have to believe,” said Lampard. “It is a long shot and we have a lot to do but if we go and win every game we will have a great chance to do it, but it will be very difficult.
“We are still behind but it is nice to be looking up in the table at the top four. We weren’t at our best tonight, we were a bit sloppy and we cannot afford to be like that if we want to do anything.
“If we win every game we still have a chance but Arsenal and Manchester United are good sides and they have a good lead.”