LONDON - Chelsea marked the start of Dutch coach Guus Hiddink's spell in charge with a 1-0 victory at Aston Villa on Saturday to keep their Premier League hopes alive. Hiddink, who has taken the job until the end of the season following the sacking of Luiz Felipe Scolari, watched the top flight's leading scorer Nicolas Anelka bag a vital three points with a well-worked goal before halftime. Victory lifted Chelsea above Villa into third place with 52 points. Villa have 51 points, six more than fifth-placed Arsenal who gave a debut to record signing Andrei Arshavin in a disappointing 0-0 home draw with Sunderland. The Russian playmaker was substituted in the second half. Stoke City drew 2-2 with relegation rivals Portsmouth while Middlesbrough remained in the bottom three after a 0-0 stalemate with Wigan Athletic. Bolton Wanderers boosted their survival hopes with a 2-1 defeat of West Ham United. Villa, who last tasted a league defeat in November, were hoping to bolster their hopes of breaking the top-four monopoly with a win that would have knocked Chelsea out of the title race, but were disappointing, especially in the first half. "We had good possession, good triangles and were dangerous in the box," Hiddink, who is combining his Chelsea duties with those of national coach of Russia, told Sky Sports. "The only thing we didn't do was kill the game with the second goal and the second half we leaned back a little too much and they have this power in the air. But on the other hand we could have scored more." It was an encouraging start for Hiddink. Chelsea were slick and purposeful in the first half and could have put the game beyond Villa by the interval. With strikers Anelka and Didier Drogba selected together, a rarity under Scolari this season, and Frank Lampard at his most dangerous in an attacking midfield role Chelsea dominated. The only goal of the game arrived after 19 minutes when Lampard received the ball with his back to goal, spun sharply and danced past two Villa defenders before releasing Anelka with a beautifully weighted pass. Anelka showed great composure, dinking the ball over Brad Friedel for his 21st goal of the season. John Terry forced a fine save from Friedel and Drogba wasted another opportunity when he failed to spot Lampard unmarked in the penalty area. Villa almost equalised out of the blue when Ashley Young's free kick bounced down off the crossbar with keeper Petr Cech beaten but that was their only real chance in the first half. The home side improved in the second half as Chelsea sat back. Gabriel Agbonlahor should have done better after wriggling past burly defender Alex, shooting tamely at Cech. Drogba then made a vital block from a James Milner volley while Garth Barry had a shot well saved by Cech. As Villa left holes at the back, Chelsea could have punished them and Michael Ballack had one thunderous shot tipped over the crossbar by Friedel late on.
21 February 2009
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