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Monday, Sep. 24, 2012

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Bridge the gap: Stoke's Michael Owen (left) fights for the ball with Chelsea's Ashley Cole on Saturday. AP

Cole on target as Chelsea sinks Stoke


LONDON — Ashley Cole produced a late Chelsea winner against Stoke by scoring his first goal in two years on Saturday, and Southampton collected its first points of the season with a victory at Aston Villa.

With Chelsea facing a second consecutive scoreless stalemate, Cole lifted the ball over Asmir Begovic in the 85th minute to secure a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea has a three-point lead at the top of the league over Everton, which won 3-0 at Swansea, and West Bromwich Albion, which beat Reading 1-0.

Southampton climbed off the bottom by coming from behind to beat Aston Villa 4-1, while Fulham won 2-1 at Wigan, and West Ham drew 1-1 with Sunderland.

The glamorous fixtures of the weekend were still to come on Sunday when Manchester United was set to visit Liverpool and champion Manchester City hosts Arsenal.

But it will be Chelsea ending the weekend at the summit after being rescued by its left back.

Cole hadn't scored since May 2010 until he connected with Juan Mata's back-heel and beat Begovic from close range after 85 minutes of dogged Stoke defending.

"You have a game plan and you need to be patient and you need to find solutions to break them down . . . it is very difficult," Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo said. "(Cole is) an unexpected goal scorer but we seem to have our full backs in very advanced positions these days."

Southampton had endured four straight losses since gaining promotion back to the Premier League and the south-coast side conceded its 15th goal of the season when Darren Bent put Villa ahead in the 36th.

But Southampton turned on the style in the second half after Rickie Lambert lashed in a leveler in the 58th.

Southampton went in front five minutes later when defender Nathaniel Clyne slotted the ball past goalkeeper Brad Guzan from close range, and Jason Puncheon extended the lead with a strike from the edge of the six-yard box that deflected off Ciaran Clark before landing in the net.

After setting up Puncheon's goal, Lambert was on the scoresheet again with a 90th-minute penalty after Guzan brought down Emmanuel Mayuka.

"We've been desperate to get some points on the board," Lambert said. "Today is everything we believed we could do and it came to fruition. At half time (manager) Nigel Adkins told us certain things were unacceptable . . . but we still believed we could win the game and we managed to do it."

That was rarely in doubt for Everton at Swansea, with Victor Anichebe and Kevin Mirallas scoring before the break and Marouane Fellaini heading in a late third after the hosts had Nathan Dyer sent off early in the second half.

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