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Cole strike denies Liverpool

Sir Alex Ferguson suggested, in his characteristically calculated way that Chelsea's championship aspirations would be examined in these trips to the mythically daunting north. They passed this test, if not with distinction, through the resilience of their defence and an unshakeable self-belief.

During the first half, especially, Liverpool generated the more forceful and threatening momentum. Chelsea were rarely permitted the opportunity to demonstrate the range of their attacking potential. Instead, their outstanding players were John Terry and his accomplices at the back, who have conceded just eight goals in 21 Premiership matches.

But Jose Mourinho's Chelsea have not stretched out at the top of the Premiership by settling for honourable draws. They seek maximum points to the last and Joe Cole came on late in the piece to deliver the decisive blow.

His shot from 22 yards took a huge deflection off the hapless Jamie Carragher on its way into Liverpool's net, 10 minutes from the end.

Harsh and unlikely though that seemed, most of Mourinho's moves appear blessed by a higher power and this was the fourth time Cole had scored as a substitute for his Portuguese manager.

Fortune, too, can play a defining role in the pursuit of any sporting prize and Mourinho unreservedly acknowledged Liverpool were worthy of a draw. Not even Mike Riley, the referee in charge for Manchester United's controversial victory against Arsenal at Old Trafford, can explain why he did not award Liverpool a penalty when Tiago clearly handled.

Riley did book Frank Lampard for a 21st-minute foul on Xabi Alonso, but while the England international is now suspended for an FA Cup tie against Scunthorpe, the Spaniard will be nursing a broken ankle for about six weeks.

Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, chose to keep his counsel on Lampard's tackle, but maintained that incident, and the penalty that got away, were the two critical moments in the match.

Mourinho argued that dubious penalty verdicts and the whims of referees come with the territory. More pertinently, he sensed that events here should serve as a warning to Chelsea's rivals that destiny is steering his team towards the title.

"Normally the luck is around the champions in the right moments and places," Mourinho said. "When you score the winner with 10 minutes to go I think it is a signal of something.

"A draw would have been a fair result and I feel sorry for Liverpool. In the first half they were better than us. I told my players at half-time we had lost a bit of emotional control. In the second half it was 50-50. My players fought and defended magnificently."

Chelsea were in a position to turn a probable draw into a priceless victory because of that redoubtable rearguard. If Cole has the glorious walk- on part, Terry has the responsibility, at every performance, to justify his manager's claim that he is the best defender in football.

He may not be the most elegant player in the cast, but it is difficult to argue with Mourinho's assessment. If that occasionally means an unceremonious hoof into the top tier, so be it.

Terry would perhaps have been extended more if Liverpool had at least one of their other recognised strikers available. Florent Sinama-Pongolle was an earnest though ultimately ineffectual lone front man.

The departure of Alonso and Riley's affliction over the penalty incident undermined Liverpool's potential. Petr Cech made an excellent save from Antonio Nunez and Carragher volleyed just over on the stroke of half-time.

Chelsea came out for the second half with greater purpose and Eidur Gudjohnsen almost reached Damien Duff's cross with the goal beckoning. It was left to Cole to find that elusive course and when Luis Garcia directed a header within Cech's reach Liverpool's fate was confirmed.

Match details

Liverpool: Dudek, Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Traore, Luis Garcia, Gerrard, Hamann, Alonso (Nunez 27), Riise (Mellor 86), Sinama Pongolle. Subs Not Used: Diao, Warnock, Harrison.
Booked: Luis Garcia, Hamann.

Chelsea: Cech, Paulo Ferreira, Terry, Gallas, Johnson, Tiago, Lampard, Makelele, Duff (Cole 76), Robben (Kezman 83), Gudjohnsen (Drogba 61).
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Geremi.
Booked: Lampard, Johnson.
Goals: Cole 80.

Ref: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

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