Drogba fires Chelsea revival
London - Didier Drogba's 100th English Premiership goal was enough to beat 10-man Stoke City at Stamford Bridge and maintain Chelsea's challenge for a top four finish.
The win moved the Blues level on points with fourth-placed Arsenal who were due to face Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium on Monday.
And Drogba's 68th-minute goal ensured caretaker-manager Roberto Di Matteo savoured victory in his first Premier League game since taking charge of the side following the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas last weekend.
But Di Matteo - who also oversaw a midweek FA Cup victory at Birmingham - knows his side will have to perform better if they are to overcome a 3-1 first leg deficit when they face Napoli in the Champions League next week.
Stoke were forced to play with ten men for over an hour following the 25th minute dismissal of Ricardo Fuller for a stamp on Branislav Ivanovic.
But while Chelsea dominated possession, they struggled to break the visitors down until Drogba produced an excellent finish following good work by Juan Mata.
The margin of victory could have been greater had a late Mata free kick not struck the woodwork as Stoke tired late on.
But overall, this was a scrappy display that confirmed Chelsea's problems this season and Di Matteo faces a testing challenge if he is to revive the club's campaign.
The caretaker-manager opted to start with Mata and Daniel Sturridge on the bench, perhaps with one eye on the Napoli game.
But the absence of the two forwards did nothing to hinder Chelsea's early attacking moves with the home side quickly laying siege to the Stoke goal.
Ivanovic had clearly been given the green light to get forward at every opportunity and the Serbia defender came close with a fourth minute header from Frank Lampard's corner.
In fact the right back was his side's greatest attacking threat during the first half.
But it was Ivanovic's running tussle with Fuller that led to the decisive moment of opening 45 minutes.
The two had clashed off the ball when Stoke broke rapidly through Jonathan Walters, prompting City manager Tony Pulis to react angrily when no free kick was given.
And the incident clearly left its mark on Fuller who reacted with an ugly stamp on Ivanovic when he was tripped attempting to go past the defender.
A red card was inevitable, leaving Stoke to play with ten men for over an hour.
Already on top, Chelsea should have found it easy to step up the tempo and take control of the game.
But Di Matteo's side struggled to translate their territorial dominance into meaningful chances, even after the Chelsea manager introduced Mata for Raul Meireles after just 37 minutes.
John Terry sent a header against the bar and it took a good save from City keeper Asmir Begovic to deny Ivanovic after the Chelsea man had made a powerful run forward before exchanging a neat one-two with Lampard.
And Ivanovic came closer still four minutes from the break when he lashed a powerful volley against the bar with Begovic with the keeper beaten.
It was clear, though, that Chelsea were growing increasingly frustrated, particularly when Stoke took every opportunity to slow the game down after the break.
Lampard and Terry both fired in long range efforts but Stoke's well organised defence limited the home side's efforts to press further forward.
Chelsea needed a spark of individual quality to find a way through and it almost came in the 66th minute when Drogba curled in a free kick that Begovic did well to claw to safety.
But the keeper was unable to deny the Ivorian two minutes later when the striker was picked out by a superb reverse pass, rounded Begovic and side-footed the ball into the empty net.
Stoke had offered little going forward and, having fallen behind, were never likely to muster a reply.