Home » EPL, Latest » Match Report: Aston Villa 2 Chelsea 4

It began with a ripple as Petr Cech gathered a harmless throughball and developed into a throaty noise that watered eyes and made hairs stand on end.

As soon as the clock turned to 19 minutes, the Villa Park crowd stood for a minute’s applause in honour of Stiliyan Petrov, who was diagnosed with acute leukaemia on Friday, with two sets of balloons in the red, white and green of the Bulgarian flag drifting over the heads of the Chelsea supporters.

One can only begin to imagine the emotions felt by Petrov and his family as they looked on from a hospitality box followed by the pride when his young team-mates laid down a marker of defiance, coming from two goals down to threaten to earn what would have been a remarkable comeback.

The effort expended by this collection of youngsters – six of the starting line-up were 23 or younger – says much about their character.

Petrov, 32, faces an uncertain battle when he begins his treatment in London tomorrow, but he has been left in no doubt about the way his sport feels about him. Both sets of players wore

T-shirts with his name on to warm up and there were banners everywhere, particularly in the Holte End.

Chelsea did their bit but looked ready to depart with an easy win thanks to goals from Daniel Sturridge and Branislav Ivanovic. But James Collins and Eric Lichaj pulled Villa level with 10 minutes left to set up what looked likely to be a remarkable comeback.

Yet it was not to be as Ivanovic scored his second before Fernando Torres broke away to score his first Premier League goal in more than five months.

Petrov’s programme notes, written in the days before Friday’s announcement, added further poignancy, with the Bulgarian renewing his message of support for Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba, who continues to recover from his cardiac arrest, and talking up the young Austrian forward Andreas Weimann, who was given his first start by Alex McLeish.

They were sentiments that Petrov also alluded to in a statement that was read out moments before kick-off as pictures of him in his seat were shown on the big screens, as his intention to fight with a determination inspired by Muamba was expressed over the speakers.

There is something reassuring that not all tribalistic tendencies are forgotten in such circumstances. Despite their

T-shirts, the visiting players were gently jeered as they came out before the game. And after Villa fans sang “One Stiliyan Petrov”, they applauded the visitors’ song without realising it was ‘One team in Europe’ being belted out of the away end.

When it came to it, a Villa team full of youth and purpose ultimately looked limited against a Chelsea side that faces Benfica next week with the chance to move into the Champions League semi-finals. However, David Luiz and Didier Drogba are both doubtful for that game with respective ankle and foot problems.

Chelsea will be delighted with Torres’s performance, even though he saw an early effort blocked by Shay Given after he raced on to a David Luiz pass, but he was soon involved again as the visitors took the lead.

Salomon Kalou sent over a cross from the left and Torres was fed by Mata, but the striker was stopped in his tracks by Stephen Warnock before Sturridge swept in from close range. Soon after John Obi Mikel saw his thumping drive deflect off both Baker and James Collins only to finish up in the arms of Given before Collins headed over at the other end as he went close to ending the minute’s applause in style.

Mata always looked the most dangerous player on the field and after a flurry of quick passes involving Kalou and Torres, he guided a shot past Given only to see it come back off the inside of a post, while a Gabriel Agbonlahor effort, which was blocked by Cech’s legs, was the best effort from the home side.

Petrov is renowned for his local charity work and there is no sign of that stopping, with the Villa captain pledging £500 for each spot-kick missed in a half-time penalty shoot-out against former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton.

Any prospect of a comeback appeared to have been halted within six minutes of the restart, when Ivanovic prodded in from close range from a Mata corner.

But with 12 minutes left, a long throw from Lichaj was met with a powerful header from Collins as Villa pulled one back and within three minutes, Lichaj was at the far post to touch in from a cross from Marc Albrighton to level the scores.

It made the climax even harder to take for Villa’s fans. Ivanovic prodded in from a Florent Malouda corner three minutes later and there was even time for Torres to end that long wait for a Premier League goal.

Although this was less convincing than it should have been, with six wins from his eight matches in charge Chelsea’s Roberto Di Matteo is staking a strong claim to become more than an interim manager and he was pleased with the character shown by his players, not just Torres.

“He’s been providing goals for his team-mates and now he’s scored as well,” Di Matteo said. “We’re happy we can score four goals.

“Before the game our thoughts were with Petrov and his family but once the game starts, you have to focus on the task.

“We keep this positive momentum and spirit. Every game and win helps us continue and believe.

“After they drew level they could have capitulated but you saw the spirit and desire to win the game and we reacted in a positive way.”

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