LONDON, Jan 26, 2010 (AFP) - Chelsea marched back to the top of the Premier League table with an emphatic 3-0 defeat of on-form Birmingham at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
A Frank Lampard double helped Carlo Ancelotti's side end Birmingham's 15-match unbeaten run on a night when Arsenal were held to a goalless draw at Aston Villa.
|Frank Lampard (L) scores his second goal past Birmingham's English goalkeeper Joe Hart (2nd L) during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Birmingham City at Stamford Bridge in London on January 27, 2010. AFP PHOTO|
Chelsea were in control from the start, with Florent Malouda heading in a Joe Cole cross to secure a fifth minute lead.
Ricardo Carvalho then headed against the woodwork before Frank Lampard doubled the lead with a drive from 20 yards just after the half hour mark.
Birmingham could have ensured a tense finale if James McFadden had not squandered a great chance to put them back in the game.
As it was, Lampard claimed his second right at the death to ensure Chelsea moved back to the top with the bonus of a significant boost to their goal difference.
Ancelotti's men are now a point ahead of Manchester United with the advantage of having played a game less than the champions.
Arsenal, who entertain United at The Emirates on Sunday, are two points adrift of Sir Alex Ferguson's side while Villa remain in seventh place, four points off Tottenham, the side currently occupying the fourth and final qualifying place for next season's Champions League.
Ancelotti paid fulsome tribute to Lampard's contribution. "I think he's the best running midfielder in the world," he said. "He has this fantastic quality to time his run into the box."
The Italian added: "It's good we are back at the top. We have one more point with a game in hand on United and two points more than Arsenal.
"That's important because on Sunday United play Arsenal. Maybe we can improve our position on Saturday."
Arsenal came closest to breaking the deadlock, twice hitting the woodwork in an entertaining contest at Villa Park.
Cesc Fabregas rattled a shot against the post in first-half stoppage time and Tomas Rosicky struck the underside of the bar after the interval after Brad Friedel had kept out Andrey Arshavin's shot.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted Villa had done a good job of nullifying his side's passing game.
"Villa know how not to let us play and they did that very well tonight," the Frenchman said.
Blackburn moved closer to mid-table safety after a 2-1 win over Lancashire neighbours Wigan, who were left just two points clear of the relegation zone.
Morten Gamst Pedersen fired Blackburn into a 20th-minute lead with a fine half-volley that was cancelled out just before the hour mark by Scotland defender Gary Caldwell's header.
Blackburn always looked marginally the better side however and they were rewarded with 14 minutes left when Nikola Kalinic headed home from a Pedersen corner.
In Wednesday's other match, Everton continued their recent improvement with a 2-0 win over a Sunderland side moving in the opposite direction.
Everton needed only seven minutes to claim the lead against opponents who have been leaking goals of late and have now won only once in their last 13 league matches.
Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini directed a cross to the near post and Tim Cahill met it with a deft header that found the far corner of Craig Gordon's net.
Cahill then turned provider for Everton's second, heading Leighton Baines's long ball into the path of Landon Donovan, who beat Craig Gordon from the edge of the area for his first goal since joining on loan from Los Angeles Galaxy earlier this month.