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Wasteful Chelsea edge past Bolton in League Cup

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Richard Heathcote

Turns out Bolton aren't as good as Schalke 04. Chelsea's run of 1-1 draws came to a not-so-convincing end as an under-strength Blues side had enough about them to see off Bolton Wanderers by a score of 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. Wastefulness was the order of the day here -- we outshot the Trotters by a frankly ludicrous margin (hell, Andre Schürrle by himself outshot the Trotters by a frankly ludicrous margin) only to allow them some hope by failing to convert most of the ten billion chances that came our way.

But hey, a win's a win, right?

That Bolton are very bad was apparent within the first few minutes. Chelsea spent the opening half hour averaging something like a shot every 120 seconds, and probably should have been 3-0 up by the time they actually did score. Schürrle was doing most of the work, somehow managing to miss a free header with Andy Lonergan helpless (Matt Mills cleared it off the line, but only because the German's aim was atrocious) and hitting the crossbar with a vicious free kick.

The others were buzzing around him -- Oscar was looking particularly twinkle-toed with backheel after backheel to punish the visitors' reeling defence still further, and both Loïc Rémy and Mohamed Salah looked determined to have a positive impact on the game given rare chances to start.

But it was a pair of even fringier players who did most of the damage in the first half. Hats off to Nathan Ake for a very composed appearance in midfield. His partnership with John Obi Mikel kept Bolton well and truly pegged back for the vast majority of the match, and he even had time to send in a rasping long-ranger that had Lonergan scrambling to make a save. And Kurt Zouma, of course, scored the opener.

His ridiculous leap on a corner, sadly, didn't lead directly to a goal (but my word, the man can probably jump clear over Eden Hazard), but the big defender was fortunately on hand to poke in after a Gary Cahill touch caused carnage in the Bolton box. At 1-0 and the Trotters apparently unable to get out of their own half, the match should have been over.

Alas, just like a week ago, things all went a bit wrong. The visitors got on the scoresheet on their first attack with a magnificent header from Mills that gave Petr Cech no chance. We knew that set pieces were going to be their most likely route to a goal, which leaves the marking both disappointing and utterly inexplicable -- Chelsea's defenders seemed more inclined to marshal each other than the opposition on the free kick, and thus paid the price.

The goal lifted Bolton and they resolved to attack more in the second half. That, of course, played into Chelsea's hands, and the winning goal ended up coming from a counterattack. A botched one: Rémy had the chance to play in Schürrle on the left or Salah on the right and chose neither, instead going for glory with a silly shot instead. Fortunately the ball ended up going straight to Oscar, who fizzed a shot just inside Lonergan's right hand post to make it 2-1.

That led to another spell of Chelsea dominance, which had roughly the same effect as the previous one: lots of chances, zero goals. Admittedly, Lonergan was responsible for some very good stops: he stonewalled Rémy after Oscar pulled off a dummy so spectacular that he even fooled himself, and then got just enough on a Schürrle shot to tip the ball onto the post.

So Chelsea didn't score again. Rather than cruise their way to the fourth round and getting to field the likes of Lewis Baker in an easy win, the match was close and extremely dangerous for the last ten minutes or so. Bolton needed a goal and were well on top, laying siege to Chelsea's box and aided by some hilariously half-assed clearances that gave the ball right back to the visitors whenever we won it.

Fortunately there was to be no late embarrassment. But that there was a serious threat of blowing yet another lead was very worrying -- we need to start killing games we're winning, and quickly.