After a pleasant little jaunt down at the seaside which gave us all a much-needed confidence boost, the pre-match omens didn’t bode well for the visit of Stoke. Joe Cole out for the season and John Terry injured in the warm-up. If Phil has been carrying a rabbit’s foot in one of his pockets, it seemed as though Satan had taken a fairly sizeable crap in the other one.
The debate over zonal marking raged on before the game; given our recent record, having a couple of players in something resembling the same postal district as the goal they were defending would have been an improvement. With Rory Delap’s own special brand of shock and awe aerial bombardment and our inability to locate the opposition goal at Stamford Bridge in recent weeks, the pessimists amongst us might have called the pools panel and requested a draw.
Remember how a few years back at the turn of the millennium, hordes of experts couldn’t tell us enough about the terrible Y2K bug? It was going to send anything with a microchip round the bend at midnight and we’d all be back in the Stone Age by the time Big Ben had finished chiming?
The only thing I’ve seen overstated more in the last decade is the threat of Stoke from set pieces. The design of the Bridge did more than countless managers to nullify the threat – advertising hoardings within three feet of the pitch seemed to bugger Rory Delap completely which left Tony Pulis’s men somewhat toothless. Genius there from the stadium management, in my humble opinion.
There were a couple of jittery moments in our backline just after kick off (given that Alex had come into the game almost completely cold), but beyond that there wasn’t much to get excited about. Ashley Cole even looked like he was keeping a post company on a couple of occasions. Maybe the old dog that is Big Phil is capable of learning a few new tricks after all.
Elsewhere on the pitch, there were points where we started to look like the all-conquering pass and move machine of August to October. No goals, obviously, but chances were made and had Thomas Sorensen not been on sublime form (ain’t it always the way?), our mid-season crisis could well have been a thing of the past.
There are still issues to address, without question; defensively, we still look vulnerable at times (continuity, or lack thereof still a key issue here) and the finishing needs to be sharper, but the midfield looked tighter and less ponderous and – whisper it quietly – Salomon Kalou (free kick diversions aside) and Florent Malouda (give the guy a break, will you?), whilst not quite Damien Duff and Arjen Robben vintage gave us the look of a team that might actually score at some point.
So how we laughed when Mr. Delap, unable to stuff us by means of airborne delivery and noting that we hadn’t managed to do so, marched onto a pass from James Beattie (Southampton, Sheffield United and Stoke – does he think red and white suits him?) and slotted the ball past Petr Cech. Poor, poor and thrice poor. Doom once again stalked SW6 as the Stoke fans informed Mr. Scolari that he may be minus one job come Sunday morning. A few of our knuckle-draggers joined in – nothing like getting behind the team, eh lads?
The clock ticked down, seats emptied and tempers frayed. Phil looked pensive on the touchline, the players in a similar state on the pitch.
And just as the boo-boys were warming up their vocal chords, that little bit of magic, absent from SW6 for so long, returned. Not so much returned, as kicked the door open and announced it was high time everyone stopped moaning, pulled their collective finger from the proverbial arsehole and jolly well cheered themselves up a bit.
I remember speaking to a football writer who told me that one of the most amusing sights you can witness is the press box when something dramatic occurs in the last few minutes of a game. Imagine lots of weary hacks, about to hit ‘send’ to relay their match report to Wapping, cursing profusely when some inconsiderate bastard knocks in a late winner which completely changes the complexion of their carefully chosen words.
We can only guess what the atmosphere must have been like in there today.
Juliano Belletti – long overdue official cult hero status, I think – salvaged us some pride by taking a quick look at the football parlance textbook and, locating the “popping up at the back stick” phrase, used it to good effect. That’ll do nicely, we thought. But, as we have often noted, we play to the final whistle in this game…
Scolari may not be the man to take us forward, but his post-match words sum up the winner and the man behind it perfectly:
"What you need, Frank gives to you.”
Amen to that. And anyone in doubt about the spirit in the camp at present need look no further than the celebrations – for a manager supposedly at war with half of his senior players, it all looked fairly happy to me.
For the purposes of this game, we shall be using the Scoville scale to determine how hot (or otherwise) our chaps were:
Petr Cech, Jose Bosingwa, Alex, Ricardo Carvalho: Jalapeno.
John Obi Mikel, Michael Ballack, Di Santo: Pequin.
Florent Malouda, Salomon Kalou, Nicolas Anelka, Miroslav Stoch: Scotch bonnet.
Frank Lampard, Juliano Belletti, Ashley Cole: Pepper spray.
Man of the Match
A toss-up between Frank and Ashley. There’s one for the ladies to consider… *cough*
Tony Pulis demonstrated a fine sense of humour this week when he suggested that his offer for Kaka had been turned down; the town of Stoke on Trent clearly not being much use to AC Milan. If he can find anything to laugh about this evening, he’s doing well. For Stoke, it might be the type of kick-in-the-knackers disheartening result that could prove terminal to their fight for Premier League survival.
As for us, will it make any difference? Well, there is the 64,000 Dollar question (I’d say six million, but Manchester City would only gazump me by another hundred million or so). Yes, there are still issues. No, I don’t think we’re going to be cuddling any silverware this season. But there were a number of youngsters on the bench, two of whom made a decent impact on the game and for a couple of glorious minutes, we finally remembered we had a pair and used them to startlingly good effect.
Allow me a wistful, contemplative moment, if you will.
All things Chelsea haven’t been great for some time now. The crushing disappointments of last season – from which I suspect some of our players, let alone our fans, will never recover – were nullified by some good early season results, but the last couple of months have been about as enjoyable as root canal work.
But today was good – no, scratch that – today was bloody marvellous. And I’ll tell you why.
Football has done strange things to us Chelsea fans in the last few years. We’ve seen it all; titles, big money signings, cup finals blah de blah. Even the most rational of us have become accustomed to life in the fast lane and haven’t coped particularly well with – shock horror – losing at home and struggling against lower league teams in the Cup.
But days like this should remind us that whilst our future destination may be a little more uncertain than it has been in some time, the scenery on the way can be so spectacular that where you end up doesn’t really matter. Today was doom and gloom, shoulder shrugging acceptance and joyous, cathartic primal scream therapy, all in the space of about three minutes. It made us all believe that reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated, it made the journey home shorter, it makes Match of the Day an acceptable alternative to hiding under the duvet and it made us all hug strangers, jump around like hyperactive toddlers and generally enjoy all things Chelsea again.
After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
The Observer, Amy Lawrence: "Who would have thought that come January Luiz Felipe Scolari would be under more pressure than Tony Pulis? That encapsulates why the Chelsea manager erupted so viscerally when Frank Lampard prevented his biggest managerial embarrassment in English football with a stoppage-time thump."
Sunday Telegraph, Jonathan Wilson: "What a difference six minutes can make. With three minutes of normal time remaining Chelsea trailed, and the Stoke fans taunts of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” seemed to bear more than a trace of credibility for Luiz Felipe Scolari. After goals from Juliano Belletti and Frank Lampard had seized victory, though, the sense was that the improbable nature of their comeback may just have re-energised their title challenge."
Independent on Sunday, Glenn Moore: "Roman Abramovich, whose absence from last Sunday’s Old Trafford debacle was much discussed, declined to watch the team he owns this weekend as well. For a long time it looked as if the Russian was a good judge. In the end he missed one of those extraordinary comebacks which can change a season."
Sunday Times, Joe Lovejoy: "Before the kick-off, they presented Frank Lampard with a silver boot to mark his 400th appearance for Chelsea, and his 123rd goal for the club, scored in the third minute of stoppage time, was one to savour, for all sorts of reasons. Before his last-gasp winner, driven in high and handsome from 18 yards, it was not only the Stoke fans who were taunting Luiz Felipe Scolari with choruses of “You’re getting sacked in the morning”."
Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: "Lampard, captain for the day, was making his 400th Chelsea appearance, and had been a frustrated figure all afternoon as the visitors defended doggedly and goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen put on a masterclass."
- Reaction: Today we start to change
- Abramovich wants to sell Chelsea
- Drogba’s future again in jeopardy