Perfect antidote?

Chelsea and West Ham United players clash after Chelsea's Frank Lampard was sent off by referee Peter Walton for a foul.-PICS: AP

Chelsea had a goal wrongly disallowed after 89 seconds, then prised West Ham apart with stunning efficiency three times in six minutes midway through the first period. The goals, slammed in rat-a-tat beyond an aghast Robert Green, knocked the stuffing out of the hosts, writes Dominic Fifield.

Even riotous victories such as these come with flipsides for Chelsea. The clubs best win at the Boleyn Ground was secured despite the dismissal of Frank Lampard, a pantomime villain in these parts, for a slap in the face of Luis Boa Morte that television replays could not detect. Avram Grant felt understandably aggrieved at the decisive assessment of the referees assistant, but he faces a dilemma.

Logic suggests that an appeal would see the first straight red card of the midfielders career rescinded, though common sense does not always prevail. Chelsea are wary of the extension of a three-match ban for Middlesbroughs Jeremie Aliadiere to four games by the Football Association for what they deemed to be a �frivolous appeal. Similar sanction against Lampard would rule the 29-year-old out of the game against Arsenal on March 22, a match Chelsea will feel they must win to muscle their way to the top.

The referee, Peter Walton, claimed his assistant had seen a slap on the Portuguese after Boa Morte and Lampard had tussled on the edge of the penalty area � it appeared more of a shove in the chest � and acted on that advice. Boa Mortes lunge at his opponent went unpunished. West Hams hackles were already up by then, trailing 3-0 at the time, and the incident prompted the inevitable handbags from a melee of players. Lampards trudge from the turf was about as good as this afternoon got for the home supporters.

It was very harsh, insisted John Terry. �Peter Walton is a very clever referee. Im sure hell look at it again and the guys who make these decisions will hopefully rescind it. That same official was more lenient after Claude Makeleles horrible lunge on Julien Faubert after the interval. Regardless, Terry and Grant will be intrigued by the contents of Waltons report. The frustration was that ? Lampards dismissal rather detracted from an excellent performance.

If this had borne the look of an awkward encounter, then it ended up as the perfect antidote to a difficult week. Chelsea had a goal wrongly disallowed after 89 seconds, then prised West Ham apart with stunning efficiency three times in six minutes midway through the first period. The goals, slammed in rat-a-tat beyond an aghast Robert Green, knocked the stuffing out of the hosts. �If you took the goals out of it, it was obviously quite even, said the West Ham manager Alan Curbishley with a straight face. If that was mystifying, this was an annihilation.

Chelsea's Joe Cole celebrates after scoring a goal.-

Three of the players recalled after sitting out the Carling Cup final scored. Roman Abramovich, dismayed by matters at Wembley, will have enjoyed this display as he watched, as governor of Chukotka, on television back in Russia. �Even if he was on an island on the moon, he would watch us, said Grant, whose side are seven points from the summit with a game in hand. �I am close friends with (Sir Alex) Ferguson and (Arsene) Wenger and I think they see the picture. If we continue to take points like this, then we are in the race.

Ashley Coles fine, slide-rule pass sparked the first; Anton Ferdinand was panicked into a rash challenge on Salomon Kalou with Lampard sliding in the penalty then pointing to his badge to whip up the livid home support. Joe Cole provided a sumptuous second, with an exquisite first touch and fizzed shot into the corner. Michael Ballacks third, crashed in on the half-volley with the outside of his boot, simply took the breath. The visitors were untouchable.

Even once they had been reduced to 10 men, they remained in complete control thanks largely to the considerable presence of Terry and Ricardo Carvalho. The England defender cleared Carlton Coles lob from the goalline to sap any remaining belief from the home side. Ashley Cole, clipping in from an unkind angle after Green had palmed away Joe Coles shot, gave the scoreline a more realistic feel. The Bobby Moore stand was emptying with 25 minutes remaining.

It was a great response, said Joe Cole. �Maybe we were a little bit better focussed. We have had a good week to take it all in, and the right performance and the right attitude were all there today. The run-in has started and it is a good time to come into form. Itll go down to the last few games, Im sure of that.

Freddie Ljungberg admitted Chelsea had been �the most clinical of the sides West Ham had confronted this season. �They were the best team weve faced, added George McCartney. �If theyd had 11 men all game, it would have been a lot tougher. They might have run up a cricket score with a full complement. West Ham should be thankful for small mercies.

THE RESULTS

March 2: Bolton 1 (Cohen 79) lost to Liverpool 3 (Jaaskelainen o.g. 12, Babel 60, Aurelio 75). Half-time: 0-1; Everton 3 (Yakubu 1 & 81, Cahill 73) bt Portsmouth 1 (Defoe 38). Half-time: 1-1.

March 1: Arsenal 1 (Bendtner 90) drew with Aston Villa 1 ( Senderos o.g. 27). Half-time: 0-1; Birmingham 4 (Forssell 7, 59 & 81, Larsson 55) bt Tottenham 1 (Jenas 90). Half-time: 1-0; Derby 0 drew with Sunderland 0; Fulham 0 lost to Manchester United 3 (Hargreaves 15, Park 44, Davies o.g. 72). Half-time: 0-2; Manchester City 0 drew with Wigan 0; Middlesbrough 0 lost to Reading 1 (Harper 90). Half-time: 0-0; Newcastle 0 lost to Blackburn 1 (Derbyshire 90). Half-time: 0-0; West Ham 0 lost to Chelsea 4 (Lampard pen-17, J. Cole 20 & 64, Ballack 22). Half-time: 0-3.

February 25:Manchester City 0 lost to Everton 2 (Yakubu 30, Lescott 38). Half-time: 0-2.