The nightmare is by no means over for Carlo Ancelotti but at least the cold sweats might not have gripped him tonight.
Having said that his faltering Chelsea team needed to "wake up", in light of their dismal recent run, he watched them sleepwalk their way through the first half of what was a must-win game.
When the boos grumbled around the ground at half-time, it was easy to fear the worst for Ancelotti, despite the club's desire to stand four-square behind him. His team had looked creatively bankrupt, their confidence seemingly in tatters.
Yet a second-half revival cut through the tension. Florent Malouda's tap-in sparked fury in the Bolton Wanderers camp, who argued that Didier Drogba had been offside in the build-up. Yet it was priceless to the champions as it provided a first league win in seven and lifted them back up to fourth place.
There had been wobbles before the goal and there was time for a few more after it, with Bolton claiming they should have had a penalty for a handball by John Terry following Stuart Holden's shot, but Chelsea got the job done. The convincing performances can wait. This was a night when the result meant everything.
"Obviously we needed to win because we needed to change the atmosphere, change the trend," Ancelotti said. "We were a little bit afraid but this is normal because there was a lot of pressure on the players. We are not at our best in terms of condition, performance and atmosphere. We can improve and we have to improve.
"The victory was a very important step but I am not sure that everything will now be OK. We have to wait. The important thing was to come back to winning. The goal took a weight off our shoulders. I don't know if it was offside and I am not interested."
Bolton's manager Owen Coyle felt that his team had "controlled the game for periods", and there was little doubt that they had been in charge for the bulk of the first half. Terry, the man of the match and an inspiration for Chelsea when the chips were down, was required to make last-ditch interventions to deny Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander while Matthew Taylor dragged a clear-cut chance wide of the far post.
Chelsea groped for ideas and inspiration in the first half. It was not pretty. With Gary Cahill standing up strongly to Drogba, and Nicolas Anelka and Malouda peripheral, Ancelotti endured that helpless feeling. Chelsea's first-half efforts were summed up by a Drogba free-kick, close to the left-hand corner of the area. He ballooned it high and so wide that it rolled out for a throw-in on the far side.
Chelsea stepped on to the front foot as the half wore on, but they were one-paced and laboured. Jussi Jaaskelainen was a virtual spectator in the Bolton goal.
Darkening the mood further was Branislav Ivanovic's booking for a foul on Elmander, his fifth of the season. He will be suspended for Aston Villa's visit on Sunday.
But Ancelotti could take heart from the showing after the interval. He and his players were desperate for any sort of touchstone. The fervent hope at Stamford Bridge was that the second 45 minutes contained one.
Chelsea sparked when Frank Lampard released Drogba and he sent a low, first-time shot against the far post. Shades of purpose and urgency returned as Chelsea's midfielders imposed themselves, particularly Michael Essien.
Then it happened. Essien bulldozed through two challenges and rolled the ball through for Drogba. As Darren Cann, a World Cup final linesman, kept his flag down, Drogba squared low across the box and Malouda stabbed home. His frenzied celebrations highlighted the relief.
"Ultimately we've been done by a huge decision that I believe was offside," said Coyle, who also felt Cann had wronged him in October by allowing Hugo Rodallega's goal in a 1-1 draw at Wigan Athletic, despite claims that there had been an offside in the build-up.
"We could also have had a penalty," Coyle continued, "but we were here last season and we had two stonewall penalties [turned down]. Drogba was playing volleyball on one of them so I certainly wasn't going to get that tonight …"
Sam Ricketts skied a glorious chance to equalise and Holden forced Petr Cech into a finger-tip save while at the other end Fabrice Muamba cleared an Essien header off the line and Ivanovic headed the rebound over. Chelsea had done enough.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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