Some pride in coming close

To have extended the race into the final 10 minutes of the season, as Chelsea effectively did at Stamford Bridge, represented a considerable achievement, writes Dominic Fifield.

Any sense of choking anticlimax which might have strangled Chelsea appeared to have eased by the time the squad strolled through their post-match lap of honour in the sunshine. The likelihood of their pursuit of Manchester United yielding a third Premier League title had always been slim. In the end those efforts did indeed prove futile, though there were still smiles from the players and appreciation from the fans in the aftermath. Forget failure; there was some satisfaction to be had in coming close.

To have extended the race into the final 10 minutes of the season, as Chelsea effectively did, represented a considerable achievement, and one clearly recognised by Roman Abramovich, present for the first time since March 23, as he clapped from his box then shared his appreciation with the team in the dressing room.

The mood of optimism had briefly flared when a wild rumour swept around the arena after almost 20 minutes, emanating in the Shed End that Wigan led in Lancashire. Ryan Giggs' 80th-minute goal for United at the JJB ultimately pricked the mood here for good.

The real news Chelsea had to savour was the possibility that John Terry's dislocated elbow, sustained in an early aerial clash with his own goalkeeper, Petr Cech, might not rule him out of the Champions League final in Moscow.

The joint had apparently been �popped back in� in the ambulance as the Chelsea captain was whisked away for an X-Ray. The centre-half was back for the stroll on the turf after the final whistle, his arm in a sling and his mood defiant, with the possibility of a European Cup still to be lifted. United will confront a side sustained by self-belief in Moscow rather than a team left crestfallen and deflated.

There was even appreciation from the supporters, perhaps not raucous, but noticeable nevertheless, for Avram Grant. The Israeli embraced his children, held his arms aloft to those in the stands, and can focus with relish on the trip to Russia in the days to come. Didier Drogba, an ice pack strapped to his left knee, will need to be rehabilitated swiftly. Yet, even the Ivorian mustered a smile after the game, hauling a topless and tattooed fan from the stands to be photographed with Michael Essien and Claude Makelele on the touchline.

That the home side had failed to win this contest, surely the bare minimum requirement, hardly seemed to matter with the destiny of the title having been decided in the north-west.

Chelsea might well have been tighter in the final exchanges had events at Wigan taken a more favourable course. Realisation had dawned on the hosts by the time Alex's poor clearance fell to Matthew Taylor in the penalty area, deep into stoppage-time, for the Bolton midfielder to scuff an equaliser beyond the Brazilian and through Cech's legs. They merited reward of a kind for their tireless efforts. If they were a side who had been celebrating survival all week, as Sir Alex Ferguson had suggested, then professionalism had demanded this display.

Bolton have been flimsy at times this season but there was no fancy dress on the pitch � Gary Megson even borrowed a Chelsea baseball cap to protect his pate from the sun, but he taped over the home side's badge. His team gave everything to frustrate Chelsea and Ferguson could have no complaints. Taylor also struck the bar with a looping header, Ashley Cole scrambling Stelios Giannakopoulos's follow-up from the line, although theirs was an approach born of solid defence.

Gretar Steinsson and Joey O'Brien tackled feverishly, Gary Cahill and Andrew O'Brien were superb at the centre of defence and Ali Al Habsi excelled in goal. Megson had included two substitute goalkeepers on the bench, with Ian Walker suffering from a stomach bug and Jussi Jaaskelainen deemed necessary in case either Al Habsi or his deputy could not feature, but the Omani blocked almost everything Chelsea flung at him.

His touch over from Drogba's battered attempt while the game was still goalless prompted wailed fury in the stands. He was just as athletic in touching Florent Malouda's shot, looping up off Cahill's attempted block, on to the crossbar as Chelsea sought reward.

It took over an hour before Bolton cracked. An inability to clear a corner left them exposed, Frank Lampard's shot across the area veering beyond Jlloyd Samuel for Andriy Shevchenko, having been summoned from the bench at the interval, to touch in at the far post.

Abramovich sprang to his feet, hope rekindled in the knowledge that a Wigan goal to claw United back to parity was all it would take for Chelsea to squeeze breathing space at the top. United's second from Giggs dashed such aspirations.

Chelsea's title challenge had always been a game of catch-up, with points having been surrendered early in the campaign, but a 21-match unbeaten league run stretching back to mid-December remains remarkable. Grant can take satisfaction in that achievement, but for this club real solace can be found in Moscow. The chance to make history remains.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008