Chelsea broke the deadlock in the 60th minute after a poor first-half display
By Chris Whyatt
Relieved Chelsea halted their worst run of form since 1999 as a stuttering victory over Bolton gave the champions a first league win in seven matches.
Carlo Ancelotti's out-of-sorts team struggled to hit the target in the first half as Bolton threatened with Matthew Taylor lashing just wide.
But they marginally improved after the break as Didier Drogba hit the post.
And Stamford Bridge erupted with joy as Florent Malouda slotted in a cross from Drogba, who had stayed just onside.
Battling Bolton disputed the goal, claiming Drogba was offside, but the Ivorian appeared to have timed his angled run across the visitors back line to perfection to race onto a fine Michael Essien pass and ensure Chelsea moved back into fourth place in the Premier League.
Much soul searching is going on at the west London club who, just seven weeks ago, were five points clear at the top of the table and playing with the verve with which they won the title last season.
Yet another seriously under-par performance is unlikely to provide any real answers to their remarkable plummet in form - but it proves they can at least churn out a much-needed result.
Their first half was marred by the entire side playing too deep, completely unable to build up any form of decent possession once the ball left their bewildered defence.
But Bolton deserve real credit, seeking to take advantage of their jitters at every opportunity in typically determined fashion.
After Essien's poor attempt flew into the stands, Rodrigo Moreno - Bolton's on-loan winger from Benfica making his full Premier League debut - nearly exposed the Blues with a lovely ball inside them for Johan Elmander, but it just skipped away from his team-mate's toes.
Centre-back Branislav Ivanovic then took a wild slash at the ball but his captain, John Terry, saved jittery Chelsea's skin by hacking the ball clear for a corner with Kevin Davies set to strike from just six yards out.
With the hosts not able to find their passes - everything that went forward was too heavy or too short - Terry once again had to come to his side's rescue after Davies had brilliantly nodded into the path of Elmander, who followed up swiftly with a deflected shot.
Bolton were then just inches from taking the lead, but the dangerous-looking Taylor drilled just wide after picking up a loose ball following Jose Bosingwa's poor attempted clearance.
A hideous Drogba free-kick, which flew directly out for a throw-in when he was aiming at goal, seemed to sum up Chelsea's frustrations.
Composed play then saw Sam Ricketts nutmeg Ashley Cole before Taylor whipped a fine curling effort over Petr Cech's bar.
Clearly robbed of confidence after such a poor run of form, Chelsea seemed to have abandoned their trademark slick passing in favour of hitting long balls as they waited for half-time to arrive.
Yet the second period showed a marked contrast in style with Frank Lampard, making only his second start since August, completely splitting Bolton's defence with back-tracking Paul Robinson unable to intercept a well-weighted through-ball.
Drogba, though, could only slide his low shot against the body of the post as the ball skidded back off the greasy turf to be cleared to safety.
Elmander's lovely flick nearly set Taylor free inside the box but, this time, Boswinga reacted well to snuff out any real danger.
Poised link-up play between Essien and Lampard set the Ghanaian midfielder free soon after but his left-footed shot from outside the box was too weak.
But, on the hour, the moment finally came for Chelsea when Essien helped break the deadlock with his brand of muscular brilliance.
Charging through the Bolton midfield to find a free moment, the Ghanaian midfielder then pinged the ball into the space into which Drogba was intelligently running.
That was the hard work largely done as the Ivorian waited for Malouda to steam into the box before releasing a simple crossed pass which the Frenchman side-footed home with aplomb.
A Ricketts and Stuart Holden one-two around the box then created a decent chance for an almost instant equaliser - but Welsh full-back Ricketts blasted over when a calmer finish could have been rewarded.
Holden then had a handball appeal turned down after smashing a shot at Terry inside the box.
Bolton then went even closer when Elmander's cross was met by a bullet header from Holden, which forced a wonderful tip over from Cech before Drogba then cleared the resulting corner off the line.
At the other end, Essien thought he had bundled the ball over the line in between Bolton's final two substitutions but the flag had already gone up.
Energetic Malouda was denied twice by Jaaskelainen late on before Ancelotti ran down the clock by introducing Salomon Kalou and Paulo Ferreira in the closing seconds as Chelsea arrested their slide.