IN DAYS GONE by, wintery November afternoons at places such as Bolton used to appeal to Chelsea about as much as being trapped in the Celebrity Big Brother house with Roy Keane would to the rest of us. But times are changing. Down to 10 men yesterday and a goal behind, the Londoners dug deep and launched one last attack.
Matching their undoubted skill with a fighting spirit that has not always been evident, they grabbed an equaliser through Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
They were fortunate to gain a point, but taking yesterday's other results into account it was not a bad day at the office. Having lost one league game all season, Chelsea are now nicely positioned going into the busiest time of the campaign.
They have quality in abundance, not least of all their excellent defence, and have front players capable of bewitching the finest rearguards with their trickery, particularly the outstanding Gianfranco Zola. It seems strange that a gritty draw against Bolton should be worthy of such praise, but this is exactly the sort of fixture Chelsea used to lose with such irritating regularity.
Despite spending so much money and sifting through a variety of high profile managers over the past decade in the pursuit of their vision, Chelsea have never been able to add consistency to their many undoubted talents. Where their new found consistency has come from is perhaps best explained by their lack of summer spending. For the first time in recent memory, a Chelsea manager did not have a a new batch of players to toy around with at the beginning of a football season.
With one hand tied behind of his back because of the financial restraints in place at debt ridden club, Claudio Ranieri has been forced to stick with the same side for over a year now. As a result, the players look settled and everybody knows what they are meant to be doing.
Claudio Ranieri praised the fighting spirit of his players after yesterday's late show and admitted that while this was a fixture they might have lost in previous years, times have changed for the better. "We have a new Chelsea now, a Chelsea that always seeks just one result, no matter who we are playing, " he said. "We always try to win, no matter who we are playing. I do not look at who we are facing before each game.
I treat them all the same.
Nobody looks at a team from the bottom any more and thinks it will be any easier."
Chelsea sparked to life when Hasselbaink was introduced following a dreary first half, with Zola dropping back to a deeper position.Hasselbaink was looking increasingly menacing and Jaaskelainnen brilliantly tipped away a stinging 15 yard effort by the Chelsea forward 11 minutes into the second half.
The Londoners were looking increasingly likely to score at this stage, but Bolton's defence - with former Real Madrid player Ivan Campo looking especially strong - were presenting them with a formidable barrier.
But they were shocked in the 63rd minute when Bolton took the lead. Cudicini pulled off a superb save to tip Paul Warhurst's 30-yard volley over the crossbar. It was only to prove a stay of execution however.
From the resulting corner, Djorkaeff whipped the ball in for Pedersen, whose header flashed into the Chelsea net to bring the Reebok Stadium to its feet. Kevin Nolan and Pedersen each had chances to finish Chelsea off, but a mixture of excellent goalkeeping and poor finishing saw the scoreline remain the same.
Babayaro was shown a red card 12 minutes from time when his flailing elbow caught Djorkaeff square on the mouth.
But with a minute remaining, Zola sprung the game to life with a majestic ball in to Hasselbaink and the Dutchman glanced the deftest of headers past Jaaskelainen.
With Liverpool and Arsenal both losing, Chelsea made up some ground at the top but surprisingly found themselves a place lower in the table because of Everton's sixth successive Premiership win. This is shaping up to be a very strange season indeed.