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Sun 26 Oct 2008 11:47 PM

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Liverpool grit breaches Chelsea fortress

Alonso's goal shatters 86-match unbeaten home run, lays down title-race marker.

Liverpool shattered Chelsea's 86-match unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge and laid down a significant marker in the title race as Xabi Alonso's strike clinched a 1-0 win on Sunday.Four and a half years had passed since Arsenal were the last team to beat Chelsea in front of their own fans in the Premier League, but Alonso ended that impressive record with a 10th minute shot that deflected home off Jose Bosingwa.

As if that wasn't bad enough for Chelsea, they also had to surrender first place in the table to Liverpool, as well as losing their unbeaten record in all competitions this season.

Alonso's goal owed more than a little to good fortune but Liverpool were worthy winners for the kind of disciplined and determined display that bore the hallmark of serious title contenders.

Chelsea had been regarded as the main threat to Manchester United's two-year dominance of the title, but Liverpool have beaten both their main rivals already and are clearly in the mood to end their 18-year wait for an English championship.

Talk of a sustained challenge from Liverpool has been growing by the week as the Reds compiled their best start to a Premier League campaign.

But this was the acid test of their credentials. Liverpool had never won at Chelsea during Benitez's four-year reign - and had only been successful there once in 19 years - so victory would be a major statement of intent.

Their cause wasn't helped by the absence of injured star Fernando Torres, but Benitez's team showed no signs of any inferiority complex and met Chelsea head on in every bone-jarring tackle in the early skirmishes.

With their desire well established, Liverpool snatched the lead in the 10th minute.

Dirk Kuyt flicked on a long throw and John Terry could only head weakly to the edge of the box, where Alonso drove in a shot that struck Bosingwa and deflected past wrong-footed keeper Petr Cech.

Salomon Kalou had a chance to level minutes later when referee Howard Webb waved play on after Jamie Carragher crunched into Frank Lampard. Kalou had just Jose Reina to beat but his snatched shot trickled tamely to the Liverpool keeper.

In previous meetings at the Bridge, Liverpool had too often opted for damage limitation rather than taking the game to Chelsea.

This time they were far more aggressive. Steven Gerrard almost provided further reward for that positive approach when his dipping strike brought a stunning save from Cech midway through the half.

Although Scolari's side still enjoyed the lions' share of the possession, there was never any sense that Liverpool were being over-run.

Chelsea probed away down both flanks but only Deco, trying his luck with a fizzling drive that flashed wide, threatened an equaliser before half-time.

So many times this season Liverpool have had to come from behind after making a slow start but few teams are harder to breakdown with a lead to defend.

Marshalled superbly by Carragher and with Javier Mascherano a blur of energy in midfield, Benitez's men never let Chelsea get into any sustained momentum.

Chelsea looked increasingly impotent in attack and Scolari responded by sending on Franco Di Santo and Juliano Belletti for Kalou and Florent Malouda.

It was Liverpool who went close next though. Alonso lashed in a low free-kick that left Cech rooted to the spot as it cannoned into a post.

The hosts should have equalised in the 73rd minute when Di Santo headed Lampard's cross to Ashley Cole, but the England left-back blazed his shot well wide and with that miss went Chelsea's last chance.

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