Frank Lampard was the Chelsea hero, scoring two minutes from time to put us back on winning ways.
Following a first half more notable for its bookings than goal-mouth action, although Wolves did hit the post, Ramires had given the Blues the lead early in the second period with an instinctive finish but then we conceded a goal in the last 10 minutes for the 10th time in this league season, Stephen Ward scoring.
Chelsea had been on top which made it all the more of a blow but Andre Villas-Boas’s team held their nerve to go back in front again with a crisp passing move, converted inside the six-yard box. It still needed Cech to come to the rescue at the end to put smiles back on Chelsea faces.
It is a scene seen so many times over the last decade but it is one Blues followers won’t tire of, especially in this context – Lampard involved early on and then timing his arrival to finish off a move. The Chelsea fans along one side of the Molineux pitch went wild.
Didier Drogba was ruled out with calf and ankle injuries and Daniel Sturridge had a hip problem, so Fernando Torres was centre-forward with Ramires wide right of the attack. Jose Bosingwa returned at right-back with Frank Lampard added to midfield. The bench had a youthful look, including 17-year-old Nathaniel Chalobah.
Mick McCarthy rang the changes for Wolves with five switches including a completely refreshed attack. Stephen Fletcher, Matt Jarvis and Stephen Hunt all began on the bench. Loan-signing from Arsenal, Emmanuel Frimpong started in midfield.
Both sides were pretty ponderous in the early stages. Chelsea survived a mistake from Bosingwa when Cech stopped a tame shot and Cole could have been booked for a foul on Frimpong but referee Peter Walton decided against it despite howls from the home crowd.
On eight minutes came the first chance, Torres making the most of gifted possession to play the perfect long, diagonal pass to Mata. Unfortunately when the smaller of the Spaniard lifted the ball over the fast-closing keeper, he also lifted it off-target.
Four minutes later Torres again played a pass into the box which deflected into Lampard’s path but Stearman made a saving tackle as the vice-captain prepared to pull the trigger. Soon after Ramires found the sidenetting only from a difficult angle. At least Chelsea were getting forward.
Midway through the half there was space as Ramires advanced on the right and the pass onto to Torres was the correct decision but it was over-weighted.
The next three minute saw three bookings. Lampard mistimed his challenge and caught Hammill on the ankle. This time the home fans demanded a red but again the ref made his own decision. The Chelsea man could have no complaints about the yellow card.
Hammill himself immediately followed into the book for a foul on Cole and Henry completed the trio by tripping Torres who was breaking on the left, although Doyle didn’t wait too much longer to be booked for throwing the ball at Cole as the temperature rose on the pitch on an otherwise chilly afternoon.
A booking that wasn’t given also added to the first-half story when Cole kicked high from behind and caught Doyle in the chest. It was a feisty middle to the half and from the free-kick by Hammill Wolves hit the post, Johnson wriggling in front of Bosingwa to apply the header.
In almost a replay and after Romeu had become Chelsea’s second booked player for a foul out wide,Ward was left unmarked but glanced another Hammill delivery wide when he should have scored.
The third time Hammill played a free-kick to the far post from out on the right, Terry rose tallest to head away.
Lampard had a shot towards half-time that was comfortably saved, as was Bosingwa’s from distance, but Chelsea’s best attacking play had been early on, although Terry did head a corner not too far over the bar. He was annoyed with himself for not doing better.
In stoppage time, Hammill opened Chelsea up but Doyle dragged his shot wide.
Wolves introduced Matt Jarvis at half-time, in place of Forde on the left of their midfield and the new arrival produced the first danger of the half, his cross falling to Hammill whose shot was blocked by Terry with Cech in position behind his skipper anyway. Hammill fired a shot over the bar soon after following a quickly taken free-kick.
Chelsea’s attacks had only been getting so far before breaking down but then Torres showed quality to win a corner. It was played across by Mata and Terry challenged. The ball fell at the feet of Ramires who won a physical tussle to face the target and fire the ball high into the net from eight yards out. The Blues had the lead with 53 minutes gone and the celebrations move over to included staff and players on the bench.
Fletcher came on for Frimpong after McCarthy had taken a few minutes before reacting to going behind.
Torres shinned a volley over from a Ramires cross, the move started by some excellent Mata play. His influence was increasing and Ramires was enjoying a strong second half, showing great pace to run beyond Berra onto a Mata pass but the angle was against the Brazilian as he shot at the keeper.
There was an inventiveness to Chelsea’ attacking since the goal and the bright Torres was only one tackle away from a successful run through a crowded area. There was a warning at the other end however when Edwards headed straight at Cech.
Approaching the final 10 minutes and it was all Chelsea. Mata had a shot deflected by Stearman onto the roof of the net and Torres couldn’t keep control when his link up with Mata had cut a path through the Wolves defence.
It looked like the same old story however when Wolves levelled with just four minutes left on the clock. Ward was the scorer, firing in first time from 12 yards out after Fletcher had run behind Bosingwa onto a pass to cross.
What joy then when just two minutes later, Lampard started and finished a move that restored the lead. His first pass went wrong but given a second attempt, he found Torres and broke forward. Torres past out to Cole who fired in a cross that Lampard slammed in from close range.
There were still scares in stoppage time when there was a scramble in the box and in the very last few seconds, Cech pulled of a wonderful reaction save to push a close-range Doyle header over the bar. The final whistle blew straight away and a win that had needed plenty of character had been secured.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa; D Luiz, Terry (c), Cole; Meireles, Romeu, Lampard ; Ramires, Torres, Mata (McEachran 83).
Unused subs Turnbull, Ferreira, Hutchinson, Bertrand, Chalobah, Lukaku.
Scorers Ramires 53, Lampard 88.
Booked Lampard 24, Romeu 32.
Wolves (4-4-1-1): Hennessey; Stearman, Johnson (c), Berra, Ward; Hammill, Frimpong (Fletcher 61), Henry, Forde (Jarvis h-t); Edwards (Foley 75); Doyle.
Unused subs Elokobi, De Vries, Hunt, Ebanks-Blake.
Scorer Ward 84.
Booked Hammill 25, Henry 27, Doyle 30.
Referee Peter Walton.
Newcastle United 3 – 0 Manchester United
Manchester United’s title challenge suffered another blow with a heavy defeat at Newcastle.
The visitors, who lost to Blackburn on New Year’s Eve, went behind before the break when striker Demba Ba hooked in his 15th goal of the season.
Yohan Cabaye doubled Newcastle’s lead with a 30-yard free-kick before Phil Jones diverted in a late own goal.
Wayne Rooney had a shot blocked on the line and Dimitar Berbatov’s header hit the post for the champions.
Ferguson credits “fantastic goals”
The Jones howler, which came deep in stoppage time, summed up Manchester United’s night at the Sports Direct Arena.
Visiting manager Sir Alex Ferguson said prior to the match that his side may be affected by the strong winds – and they indeed failed to cope in the difficult conditions as Alan Pardew’s Newcastle thrived.
But the champions were also slow to the loose ball and ineffective in attack. The defeat leaves them three points behind fierce local rivals Manchester City, who beat Liverpool 3-0 on Tuesday.
With Tottenham breathing down their necks, Ferguson will need to call upon all his great managerial experience to lift his players after two successive league defeats.
This was arguably his side’s worst performance of the season, but the Magpies deserve credit because they were faster, stronger and sharper.
The home side won the key battles in the middle, while Manchester United centre-backs Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones failed to cope with the muscle of strikers Ba and Shola Ameobi when the ball was pitched up.
At the other end of the field, Rooney and Berbatov were given little space by the Newcastle back four, with defensive midfielder Cheick Tiote producing another tireless performance as back-up.
Pardew hails ‘good night’ for Newcastle
The game may have turned out differently had Berbatov capitalised on Antonio Valencia’s cross with the score goalless but his deflected header struck the base of Tim Krul’s right-hand upright.
Manchester United’s only other clear chance fell to Rooney, whose strike from four yards was blocked by Newcastle right-back Danny Simpson to preserve the home side’s 2-0 lead.
Apart from those efforts, the Old Trafford side struggled to create. Nani occasionally delivered a dangerous ball, but the front two were often found dropping deep in order to bring themselves into the game.
For Newcastle manager Pardew, he will enjoy what is undoubtedly one of the best results of his managerial career.
His side took the lead in the first half when Ba picked up a flick from partner Ameobi and then hooked his shot past Anders Lindegaard, who conceded only his second goal in eight appearances.
Two minutes after the break, the Magpies extended the lead with one of the strikes of the season when France midfielder Cabaye curled in a 30-yard free-kick which bounced in off the underside of the bar.
The visitors’ night came to a calamitous conclusion when keeper Krul’s long punt downfield was misjudged by Jones, who diverted the ball into the net.