Chelsea extends EPL lead with 4-1 win over Norwich

ROB HARRIS AP Sports Writer Published:

LONDON (AP) -- Embroiled in controversy off the pitch but full of confidence on it, Chelsea strengthened its grip on the Premier League with a 4-1 victory over Norwich on Saturday.

Grant Holt surprised Chelsea with an 11th minute-opener, but Fernando Torres equalized inside three minutes to repel the initial threat from the winless visitors.

Frank Lampard volleyed Chelsea in front in the 22th, Eden Hazard extended the advantage before the break, and Branislav Ivanovic fired in another in the second half as Chelsea went four points clear of Manchester City.

"My job is to keep the team focused on what its targets are ... the team is in good health," Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo said.

The European champions have made their best start to a domestic season in seven years, however a yearlong racism case plunged Chelsea into renewed controversy Friday when the judgment was released.

The Football Association panel that gave captain John Terry a four-match ban criticized Ashley Cole over statements supporting his teammate's defense.

That prompted Cole to launch an obscene outburst against the FA on Twitter, leaving the England defender facing sanctions despite an apology to the body that also runs the national team.

Di Matteo said there will be internal discliplinary action against Cole over the tweet, but the row endeared him further to Chelsea fans.

"Ashley Cole, he tweets what he wants," they chanted at Stamford Bridge.

Despite external outrage, Chelsea and its fans also persist in supporting Terry, who is yet to apologize despite being found guilty of using a racist slur. The four-match ban and 220,000-pound ($356,000) fine is on hold pending any appeal.

Chelsea's defense, though, initially was as successful as Terry's at his disciplinary hearing with Norwich going in front after 11 minutes.

Grant Holt brought down Alexander Tettey's headed cross just inside the penalty area and sliced the ball past goalkeeper Petr Cech into the bottom corner of the net.

The lead lasted just three minutes as Torres scored in consecutive league matches for the first time since August. Bransilav Ivanovic crossed from the right and Torres rose to head the ball past goalkeeper John Ruddy.

A more speculative attempt by Torres to put Chelsea in front failed, but his overhead kick instead found its way to the edge of the area for Lampard to volley into the bottom corner.

As Norwich pushed for an equalizer, the visitors were ripped apart again by Chelsea. Juan Mata launched a flowing counterattack, slipped the ball through to Hazard, and the Belgium midfielder slipped a shot into the corner of the net.

Holt, though, threatened to score again for Norwich either side of the break as he twice got the better of Terry to threaten Cech. But Chelsea's conviction was unwavering.

"There was never really any danger we would lose this game," Di Matteo said.

Oscar produced a low save from Ruddy, who blocked Torres' effort when he only had the goalkeeper to beat.

But Ivanvoic added the gloss to the win by volleying the ball inside the post after Mata had flicked it into the right back's path.