Lampard gives Chelsea priceless victory

Chelsea 2 Manchester City 1

Substitute Frank Lampard blew the title race wide open with an 82nd-minute penalty that ended 10-man Manchester City’s unbeaten league record.

Linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge and again left out of the starting line-up, Lampard showed he is no spent force by scoring the goal that took Chelsea up to third in the table – seven points behind City.

Mario Balotelli put the Premier League leaders ahead after only 98 seconds, rounding keeper Petr Cech and slotting home after being beautifully set up by Sergio Aguero.

Chelsea hit back 11 minutes before half-time, when Daniel Sturridge darted down the right and cut the ball back for Raul Meireles to volley in.

They sensed a victory when Gael Clichy was sent off on the hour-mark – and got it when Lampard netted from the spot after Sturridge’s shot was handled by Joleon Lescott.

Villas-Boas bided his time before bringing Lampard off the bench.

Even under-pressure manager Andre Villas-Boas had conceded that a defeat would virtually end the Blues’ flagging title hopes, so the importance of this win cannot be overstated.

Balotelli gave City the perfect start following some lovely work by Aguero, who turned away from John Terry before delivering the perfect through-ball with the outside of his right boot.

The maverick Italian did the rest, showing great composure to go past Cech and net his 11th goal of the season.

Aguero fired narrowly wide as City continued to run rings around their troubled opponents, who were then fortunate not to have a penalty awarded against them when David Silva appeared to be fouled in the box by Jose Bosingwa.

But, having spent most of the first half chasing shadows, Chelsea levelled after a fine move.

Sturridge, playing against his former club, was picked out by Terry and tricked his way to the byeline before teeing up Meireles, who finished superbly.

Villas-Boas has faced calls to move Sturridge into a central position, but the player’s contribution from the right flank has been outstanding this season and was pivotal in turning this game around.

Having created the equaliser, the pressure he put Clichy under told when the left-back was booked after bringing him down in the first minute of the second half.

And after Clichy was shown a second yellow card, this time for a reckless challenge on Ramires, City were forced to play the final half an hour a man short.

Chelsea initially struggled to make their numerical advantage count and Villas-Boas waited until the 73rd minute to introduce Lampard.

He would have had questions to answer had that proved to be too late.

Instead, he was able to celebrate a result that could yet prove to be the watershed moment of his so-far turbulent reign.

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