Essien strike sinks City
First half winner (Gallo Images)
London - Michael Essien confirmed his return could have a major influence on Chelsea's triple bid for honours by striking the winning goal in Chelsea's comfortable 1-0 victory over Manchester City to keep Guus Hiddink's side in second place in the Premier League.
Essien has now scored in each of his two starts after coming back into the Blues side following the serious knee injury that kept him out since last August.
And after helping Chelsea ease their way past Juventus and into the last eight of the Champions League last week, the Ghanaian's winner against City moved his side to within four points of Premier League leaders Manchester United.
Hiddink had maintained in the build-up to this weekend's round of matches that a Liverpool victory over United at Old Trafford on Saturday was crucial to maintaining any semblance of a contest in the title race.
And with Rafael Benitez's side having pulled off an improbable 4-1 victory 24 hours before this game, the prospect of closing the gap on the leaders clearly provided Hiddink's side with all the motivation they needed to easily dismiss City's flimsy challenge and continue their impressive revival under the Dutch manager.
Last week's 2-2 draw against Juventus in Turin remains the only blemish on Hiddink's record since taking over from Luiz Felipe Scolari last month, and the only surprise about the outcome of this game was that the home side hadn't put the game beyond City's reach long before half-time.
Chelsea's strength, pace and power was simply too much for their frail opponents who barely produced an attacking move of note throughout the ninety minutes
Once again Robinho was virtually anonymous away from the comfort zone of the City of Manchester stadium and, having been poised to join Chelsea last summer before City's British record 32million pound deadline day intervention, the Brazilian did nothing to give the London club cause to regret their failure to complete the deal.
Not that the play-maker was the only City player to under-perform.
Mark Hughes's side may be on the verge of reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup but they came out a poor second in all areas of the field and would have suffered a much heavier defeat but for the efforts of keeper Shay Given and defender Nedum Onuoha.
Chelsea had the ball in the net after just 90 seconds when Frank Lampard helped Deco's deflected shot past Given only to be ruled offside.
Then minutes later Ricardo Carvalho should have done a lot better when he rose unchallenged to meet Lampard's left-wing corner and wastefully headed wide.
The opening barrage was certain to bring some reward, however, and that came in the eighteenth minute when Essien connected first time with Lampard's drilled free-kick, looping the ball over Given's head.
The strike may have carried more than stroke of luck but it was no more than Chelsea's vibrant opening deserved. The only surprise was that they failed to maintain the momentum and add to their tally.
Nicolas Anelka felt he should have won a penalty when he was brought down by Onuoha, but that apart, Hiddink's side created little in the way of genuine openings although Michael Ballack will wince when he sees replays of his wayward 36th minute shot.
In a rare intervention, Robinho conjured a scuffed shot that was cleared off the line by Jose Bosingwa but City's threat was minimal.
The pattern was maintained after the break with Onuoha halting Didier Drogba just as the Ivorian was about to shoot and Juliano Belletti firing against the inside of the post.
But while Chelsea couldn't afford to ease up, their victory sent out a resounding message that the title race is not yet over.