Wolves 1 Chelsea 2
Stephen Ward looked to have salvaged a point for Wolves today – until Chelsea's Frank Lampard settled the issue with a late winner at Molineux.
Lampard celebrated his return to the starting line-up by converting a cross from Ashley Cole with two minutes remaining.
Ramires had given the Blues a 54th minute lead but Stephen Ward levelled the score and it needed an injury-time save from goalkeeper Petr Cech – who tipped over a close-range header from Kevin Doyle – to deny Wolves a point.
Victory enabled Chelsea to end a four-game run without a win and, temporarily at least, pushed them back into fourth spot with Arsenal not in action until this evening.
Villas-Boas would have taken heart from the performance of Fernando Torres, who started in the absence of the injured Didier Drogba and Daniel Sturridge.
The former Liverpool player looked sharp and committed throughout the 90 minutes and there were signs of him returning to his best.
Juan Mata also impressed in the centre of the park but Wolves’ battling spirit meant they were always in contention with winger Adam Hammill causing plenty of problems
An early slip by Jose Bosingwa allowed David Edwards a shot at goal inside the first 20 seconds but it lacked power and Cech was able to save comfortably low to his right.
A mix-up between Wolves defenders Christophe Berra and Ward allowed Torres to play in Mata but his cross-shot failed to hit the target.
Torres was looking confident despite not scoring since October 23 and picked out the run into the box of Lampard.
It needed Richard Stearman to make a fine tackle to deny the England midfielder a clear-cut chance.
Lampard became the first player to be booked, for a sliding tackle on Hammill. The Wolves winger also went into referee Peter Walton’s notebook for his challenge on Ashley Cole.
Wolves midfielder Karl Henry was booked for tripping Torres on the edge of his box. Then Doyle was cautioned after throwing the ball at Cole after he had been upended by the England left-back
Hammill’s free-kick was perfectly flighted for Johnson, whose header flicked the post.
It became five yellow cards in eight minutes when Romeu brought down Hammill, who took took the free-kick himself. Edwards found himself unmarked six yards out but directed his header past the post.
Chelsea ended the first half on the offensive with Hennessey turning aside Bosingwa’s powerful drive.
Wolves boss Mick McCarthy made a half-time substitution with winger Matt Jarvis replacing Forde.
The home side were still looking dangerous on the counter-attack and Jarvis’ pace took him past Bosingwa before his cross fell to Hammill 15 yards out.
He kept his volley down but it bounced up invitingly for Cech who saved away to his right.
Ramires put the Blues in front in the 54th minute. John Terry attacked a Mata corner but managed only the slightest of touches and the ball broke to the Brazilian, who held off Ward’s challenge before lashing the ball into the roof of the net for his sixth goal of the campaign.
The Chelsea players celebrated on the touchline with Villas-Boas and the coaching staff.
McCarthy responded by bringing on eight-goal leading scorer Steven Fletcher for Frimpong.
Ramires teed up an opportunity for Torres but, under pressure, he dragged his volley well wide.
Hennessey needed to be alert to block an attempt from Raul Meireles, Stearman produced a crucial challenge to halt the impressive Torres inside the box, before Mata fired into the side-netting.
Ward brought Wolves level in the 84th minute after Fletcher turned a deep cross from Jarvis back into his path.
However, Lampard won it for Chelsea’s four minutes later after Torres had found Cole in space to deliver the telling cross – although they needed Cech’s heroics in the fourth minute of injury time to preserve all three points.