The Blues ran out 4-2 winners in a pulsating encounter having thrown away a 2-0 lead midway through the second half, but the game itself was overshadowed by the sad news that Villa captain Stiliya Petrov, who received a wonderful ovation from both sets of supporters prior to kick off, has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia.
‘Our players wore the t-shirt and really feel for the player and for the person as well,’ said our interim first team coach. ‘It was an emotional day but we had to try and do our job and win the game ourselves.
‘You see how the football community comes together at these times; lately we’ve had some terrible news about a couple of players and it’s been great to see how the football community has responded and given all the support they can to these players. Once the game starts you have to focus on the task but before and after, our thoughts are with the player and his family.’
The Blues were off to a flyer when Daniel Sturridge gave us the lead inside the opening eight minutes, and when Branislav Ivanovic doubled our advantage at the beginning of the second half, the three points appeared to be secure.
Villa, though, hauled themselves back into the game when both James Collins and Eric Lichaj scored in the space of a couple of minutes to level the match, but the drama was far from over, and after Ivanovic restored our lead, Fernando Torres sealed the points with a trademark finish on the break in added time.
‘I thought we were strong; we dominated and controlled the game, apart from five minutes where they scored a couple of goals,’ said Di Matteo. ‘ It’s always difficult to defend against Collins, he’s a big threat in the air and from long throws, but apart from that we looked very strong, had many chances, hit the post and it was a shame we couldn’t kill the game off earlier but it was a fantastic performance again.
‘I always said it doesn’t matter who scores, he [Torres] has been providing and now he’s scoring as well, everybody’s happy we scored four goals today, he scored and it was a terrific goal at the end.’
The win, our sixth in eight matches under the stewardship of the Italian, keeps our quest for a Champions League place alive, and with Tottenham now only two points in front and Arsenal five ahead, there is still a lot to play for, as Di Matteo admitted.
‘We can only try to influence what we can do, it was great to get three points today and put pressure on the teams above us,’ he said.
‘Our schedule was difficult, Stoke are difficult opposition, we played Manchester City away and it was close, then Spurs at home who are a strong side, but we have to try to get as many points as we can.
‘For us its good we keep this positive momentum and spirit where every game and win helps us believe, when they equalised we could have capitulated, but you saw the spirit the team had and the desire to win the game and we reacted in a positive way.’
With attention now turning towards Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final return leg against Benfica, Di Matteo confirmed two key members of his squad will need to be assessed by our medical team.
‘David Luiz has a problem with his ankle ligament so we need to assess him over the next couple of days,’ he admitted.
‘We also need to assess Didier Drogba over the next 48 hours after he picked up a knock on his foot and couldn’t make today.’