A little preamble
Time huh? Bloody hell. To paraphrase a rather well known purple-nosed old soak currently bothering young athletes in the halls of Old Trafford, shuffling around corridors yelling ‘D’ye know who I am?’*
But time is the one thing we all have much too little of (paraphrasing the lyrics of the magnificent Burt Bacharach) and with other distractions such as fortnightly Podding Sheds (go on have a listen, you might even like us) and ever increasing workloads in work and at home, I just don’t get enough time to give our beloved bijou blog the attention and content I once did. Must do better.
But in a time when Ahmed has so willingly stepped into the breach to provide reports on matches, all I can say to him is thank you for keeping the flame going. On that note it is good to be back in the saddle of sorts trying to fathom out just what the fuck we saw on Wednesday evening at Stamford Bridge (aah… the potty mouth returns).
Well of course we welcomed West Ham. Well when I say welcomed I mean we allowed their travelling band of cheeky chirpy cockneys** to park their caravans down the road and enter our beloved emporium of Special Happy One delights.
In truth, I hold no dislike of West Ham. They won us a World Cup, had the first widely known black player in English football (Clyde Best), produced fine players like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Billy Bonds, Joe Cole and of course Franks Lampard Snr and Jnr. At least two of those players did us quite proud. And it’s hard to dislike a club whose box office phone number ends in ‘1966’. However things have been a bit rough for them of late, a recent relegation, a badly misjudged liaison with our own conman extraordinaire, Avram Grant, an unfortunate ownership with David ‘I shagged Mary Millington’ Sullivan***, purveyor of soft porn and utter garbage like the Sunday Sport and of course the football breeding ground for the much adored and deeply respected Ferdinand footballing brothers.****
Enough baiting… on to the game itself.
**Pikeys, thugs and mugs
***One for the teenagers there
****Yes, I’m joking
Midweek Premier League games always have more atmosphere. That is a fact. Champions League midweek games in the league part of the competition tend to be much more on the lines of a dinner party atmosphere somewhere in deepest Surbiton. This is often even more contrasted as a difference when it’s a London derby match, irrespective of the lowly opposition. But from stepping into the ground I couldn’t help but get a sense that everything was a bit flat. There were lots of empty seats at kick off. And even the usually irritating Neil Barnett seemed a tad apathetic when reading the teams out. To cap it all, some utter moron decided to play our entry tune of ‘Liquidator’ at a volume barely more audible than if it was being consecutively played on half a dozen iPhones dotted around the stadium. Now I know there are people who want the atmosphere and chanting to be ‘au naturel’ originating from excited fans… but ‘Liquidator’ is OUR tune, it gets feet tapping, it gets the clapping and the shouts of Chelsea going. It needs to be HEARD and HEARD VERY LOUDLY. I will continue to ‘tweet’ the club’s Twitter account incessantly until someone tells me why we it played so quietly last night.
There were no great surprises in either teams’ line ups, save for the fact that one or two West Ham players induced murmurings of ‘who’ when read out. However, the likes of Kevin Nolan, Mohamed Diame, Andy Carroll, James Collins, Mark Noble and Stewart Downing are all well established Premier League names. The question was, given their recent disastrous leaking of goals, what would West Ham do?
a) Bring the game to Chelsea… or…
b) Sit back and defend grimly?
Barely five minutes passed before we all knew the answer. They had no intention of trying to attack. It was for long periods of both halves, our 4-1-1-3-1 versus their 9-0-1 formation, occasionally even reverting to 10-0-0. Inevitably we took control, passing the ball comfortably, showing bursts of pace and trying to work the ball into intelligent spaces from whence we could inflict untold damage to West Ham’s beleaguered and battered hull.
But Sam Allardyce was fresh back from his Bricklaying for Coaches course now being run by the Howard Wilkinson/George Graham Consortium. And what Sam created was, in all honesty, and only now with retrospective vision, a thing of utter beauty. A hulking great brick wall of a team, one which would happily encircle a top security prison, with interchangeable bricks, capable of ‘bricking’ a Chelsea player showing too much flair and talent, but equally capable of spectacularly falling out of the wall in order to ‘persuade’ the ref of contact for a free kick and in the process wasting more valuable seconds of the game. As a spectacle and example of how to break up a game, restrict the opposing team to long shots, to ride your luck when Chelsea did break on through to the other side (apologies to Jim Morrison) and to provide an impenetrable goal protecting fortress mentality it was up there with our Barcelona adventure in the Nou Camp en route to ‘that night in Munich’. One small difference of course being we did have two shots that night and we did score from both. Bricklayer Sam simply removed that tricky part of the equation lest it become too much of a complexity and ordered them to defend.
It was football’s Rourke’s Drift. Wave after wave of Chelsea attacking move was thwarted by goalkeepers, profligate attempts by increasingly panicky Chelsea players, goalposts, crossbars, blocking defenders, blocking midfielders, blocking striker. It may have been just me, but I’m convinced I heard Sam shouting ‘Front rank… FIRE!’ from the benches. And from Jose Mourinho, the desperate cry of ‘Tear down the wall’. Hazard jinked, Oscar tackled, Mikel and then Matic controlled, Lampard shot, Eto’o shot, Ba shot… bloody hell at one point I reckon I got a shot in.
All to no avail.
The script was written and it’s hard to know exactly what else Chelsea could have done. I believe in total the stats show 78/22% possession in our favour. Thirty-nine shots for Chelsea, one for West Ham, 14 corners for us. And yet we could have played for another hour and I doubt we’d have scored. Even a cheeky dubious effort from Eto’o was disallowed, presumably on the basis that Neil Swarbrick the ref didn’t know if it was legal or not and on the balance of probabilities decided it most likely wasn’t. What seemed a blatant penalty to Chelsea at the end emulating the late great escape from West Brom earlier this season didn’t persuade this pernickety jobsworth of a referee to decide in our favour.
At 96 minutes, the game was over. West Ham fans celebrated much as they probably did the last time they won a trophy (League Cup 1981… or possibly the Intertoto in 1999… not a great choice). In truth I suppose they did ‘win’ the game, after all I doubt many saw them getting the draw, which is in all honesty a great result for them.
But again, under this second Jose reign… amongst the angst and frustration, the wastefulness of Ramires at the end when shooting wildly when a square ball would have played in a Chelsea player for a tap-in, the niggly tactics of the Hammers, the slow walking off the pitch of their subbed players, the time wasting goal kicks, the game was still enjoyable and what started as a flat atmosphere was altogether rather boisterous at the end. 0-0 shouldn’t really be fun, but last night genuinely was.
And so my friends, a chance to nick second spot and cling to the coat tails of the rampant Manchester City whilst jumping above Arsenal was missed. A point gained, or two points lost? In my view any point gained is exactly that. This season is very much about the improvement and building towards next season when no doubt, we will have one or two new forwards, a new left-back, some goalkeeper competition, and perhaps a backup right-back. I can’t lay the blame on the players nor on Jose for this result. Such was the domination of possession and attack, this game has to be put down as one of those odd nights in football where a team execute a game plan superbly, especially when outgunned in terms of skill, pace and intelligence. Jose himself said he wanted a Black and Decker machine to tear down the wall, but from what I could see, even a wrecking ball might have bounced back against such a dogged, determined, hard working and yes… a little lucky West Ham defence. And if anyone fancies being a Chelsea bedwetter, before you start whining about points lost look at our last eight games in all competitions. P8, W7, D1, L0. It’s hardly the form of a crisis club now is it?
Finally, we’re in the business end of the season now. The Champions League looms large from February, perhaps giving a rested Liverpool fresh impetus toward fourth place. City look unstoppable and we’ll need to execute something like Sam’s Wall Plan for next Monday to try and get a draw or mug a win. They’ve destroyed many teams lately, but London’s other clubs have been frankly embarrassed up there. Let’s hope Jose can avoid that at least. Arsenal now face their toughest run, with matches against Bayern (twice) and Liverpool in the cups, and Liverpool, Man United, Spurs, Chelsea, Man City and Everton in the Premier League during February and March. If they come through that unscathed then they deserve to be a real threat this year. For me, I think we look a decent second place finish team this year, an improvement on the last two seasons, positionally and points wise behind the winners. Jose has tried to temper expectations and I’m with him. We have a chance of stability now and he seems keen to build for the future and remain with us. More importantly the club hierarchy seem to think this as well. Building a new trophy winning squad may not be Jose’s first and primary skill but there’s no-one I’d trust more than him.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!