BIRMINGHAM: Frank Lampard became Chelsea’s all-time top goalscorer with the two goals which defeated Aston Villa 2-1 in a Premier League game of two red cards and effectively guaranteed the Blues’ place in the Champions League next season.
Belgian striker Christian Benteke gave the hosts the lead in the 15th minute with a 23rd goal of the season before being sent off in the 55th after a high kick at John Terry. In the first half a similar incident saw Chelsea’s Ramires collect the first red card.
Victory afforded Chelsea a perfect send-off towards the Europa League Final against Benfica in Amsterdam on Wednesday though Terry will not be there after inuring an ankle. Eden Hazard may also be a doubt after collecting a muscle strain.
Beyond these incidents the game will go down in Chelsea history for Lampard’s match-winning achievement in turning a 1-0 deficit into a most important victory by writing a slice of club history. After the game Lampard talked by phone with Bobby Tambling whose club record of 202 goals he had surpassed.
But their side are not yet out of the woods in trying to stay afloat in the Premier League despite having 40 points. They must hope Wigan on 35 points lose at Arsenal on Wednesday after they come off today’s FA Cup final with Manchester City at Wembley Stadium.
Villa will take their fight to escape relegation to the last game of season next Sunday against fellow strugglers Wigan. They took an early lead through the energetic Benteke who converted a return pass from Sylla to beat Petr Cech on the goalkeeper’s near post.
Ramires was sent off shortly before half-time after collecting a second booking for a late high boot aimed at Gabriel Agbonlahor. But the expulsion of Benteke for a similar second yellow and for a similar reckless challenge evened the numbers and further encouraged a Chelsea side already raising the tempo of the game.
Lampard equalised and put Chelsea ahead with two goals in three minutes just after the hour. Each time Hazard provided the assist.
It might have been more. Chelsea and Demba Ba were denied an ‘over-the-line’ goal by a last-ditch Ashley Westwood clearance. Replays suggested the ball was over the but officials could hardly be blamed for not catching the high-speed action.
Chelsea are are five points clear of Arsenal and six ahead of Spurs with one league game remaining and with a far superior goal difference to Tottenham.
Villa fans stayed beyond the final whistle to cheer captain Stilian Petrov who led the team’s ‘thankyou’ parade after having announced his retirement earlier this week following intensive treatment for leukemia.