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Monday, December 28, 2009

Brilliant Deco sends Chelsea to Premier League summit

WIGAN, England (AFP) – A goal of pure quality from Deco sent Chelsea to the top of the Premier League, although Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side made heavy weather of overcoming a determined Wigan side 1-0 at the JJB Stadium on Sunday.The Brazilian-born Portuguese international, a summer signing from Barcelona, made it two goals in two games for his new club with a sublime finish from an early free-kick.But Wigan refused to surrender and it required a string of fine saves from Czech Republic keeper Petr Cech before Chelsea could celebrate a win which leaves them five points above reigning champions Manchester United, who are away at Portsmouth on Monday.England manager Fabio Capello was present to cast his eye over John Terry, the newly-installed England captain, and Frank Lampard but neither really sparkled. Indeed, Terry was booked in front of his international boss as Chelsea laboured to victory.Unlike the four-goal drubbing of Portsmouth seven days earlier, this was a hard-earned three points for Scolari’s team.Wigan, already denied the services of Austrian defender Paul Scharner to injury, were dealt a severe blow before the match had started when keeper Chris Kirkland was injured in the pre-match warm-up.That paved the way for second-choice stopper Mike Pollitt to make his first Premier League start since conceding two goals against Arsenal nine months ago.

Yet the 36-year-old’s first touch was to fish the ball from the back of his net after Deco’s magnificently executed set-piece on four minutes.It was conceded by Lee Cattermole, making his home debut for Wigan following a move from Middlesbrough in the summer, who handled just outside his own area and Deco did the rest.Having spent four years watching Ronaldinho hammer home free-kicks for fun for Barcelona, finally Deco is first-choice and he is clearly determined to make up for lost time. Pollitt’s positioning was not great but that should not take the gloss off what was a fabulous goal.But, as Chelsea discovered to their cost four months ago, Wigan are not short of character or spirit.Back in April, Emile Heskey snatched an unlikely stoppage time equaliser at Stamford Bridge to all but end Chelsea’s title aspirations.This time Wigan failed to find the Chelsea net, but it certainly was not for want of trying.Within two minutes of falling behind, Cech was forced into the first of three excellent first-half saves after Honduras international Wilson Palacios cut inside from the left before testing the keeper.The high-tempo start continued in the eighth minute when Amr Zaki, Wigan’s new Egyptian striker, found himself with a great scoring chance only to be thwarted by Cech’s body.Then a fine one-touch move resulted in the dangerous Zaki having another effort parried away by the busy Chelsea keeper.Wigan, who narrowly avoided relegation last season, continued to plug away in the second half without success.They are without a point after two games yet manager Steve Bruce will not be too concerned as long as his players take the positives of this game into the rest of the season.Scolari, on the other hand, will hope to see a bit more quality from his expensively-assembled squad in next week’s London derby with Tottenham.While pleased to see Chelsea sitting at the top of the table so early into his reign, the former Portugal coach knows now that the hard work is only just beginning if his first season at Stamford Bridge is to end in success.

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