A little preamble
A sad day for our little band of travellers from the Deep South of England into the great metropolis for our occasional delectation of Blue-tinted delights. Our much loved, slightly ramshackle, but always warm and friendly café, The Broadway Grill closed its doors Saturday after 37 years of providing the best proper pre-match fayre on earth. Proper wholesome football food, the sort of stuff that’s a naughty treat, not organic wholesome healthy tasteless expensive shite, but kebabs, burgers, breakfasts, mixed grills, all with chips, bread and butter, pitta bread, chilli sauce and so on. The owners have retired and sold it on and with heavy hearts our next home game will involve a no doubt painful search for something similar, that isn’t Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, gourmet or fucking sushi. To Mum and the family, enjoy your retirement, we’ll miss our Chelsea FC café and all the fellow fans we’ve got to know by face if not name.
I sat in the Club Room bantering with the others and jokingly said ‘I’ll take the draw’ something I’d be repeating incessantly in the last 10 minutes of the game. I also said Mourinho would lose the frankly astonishing home Premier League record not to Manchester United, not to Arsenal or any other big team. I said we’d be mugged by a West Brom, a Swansea or a Stoke. A smaller team will take that scalp, and Saturday it came within 30 seconds of coming to fruition. It was by far the closest ‘near miss’ we’ve had under either Mourinho reign. And yes, I know the term ‘near miss’ is grammatically wrong and ‘near hit’ would be right, but either way those who left with two minutes of the game remaining had already accepted our fate but ended up missing what the Premier League does best, drama, fighting, arguing, controversy, despair and joy. And with the results yesterday we can be thankful that this was a point gained rather than two lost.
Another game, another selection headache, another team that could probably have been easily predicted. A team that on paper should be the match of any other team in the league if not Europe. I however, being in a niggly, devil’s advocate mood I stirred up a bit of debate with my contention pre-match that Cech was an increasing liability, that Lampard didn’t deserve a starting place (it should be the excellent Mikel) and that Eto’o despite my misgivings was turning into a proper poaching, hunting striker that other teams would both covet and hate. I should have had a bet shouldn’t I?
The first half was almost a carbon copy of last week’s Newcastle debacle with Chelsea holding possession against a team seemingly unwilling to cross the halfway line. The Baggies had come to park the proverbial bus. My criticism is we’re going to come across many teams like that. Under Jose Mk. 1 we would power our way through them, but this new team isn’t as reliant on power and favours creativity. However, it’s obvious that our Creative Herberts (© Dr Blue Bayou) just can’t seem to crack the conundrum of big defenders and packed defences. Something is missing. Just before half time the energetic and slightly chastened Hazard hit a superb shot parried by the impressive Myhill and before the Baggies defence could clear in swooped Eto’o to put the ball in the net. A poacher’s goal that Lineker, Muller (Gerd) and Rummenigge would have been proud of. I was not enamoured with Eto’o because of his spitting episodes and his disparaging comments about our club. But fuck it, I’m fickle, so now I love the bloke.
Half time and over a cold (tasteless) beer I chatted with my Matthew Harding Upper neighbours Attilio and Tony about how it was looking like a perfunctory cruise to victory. Not a thriller but a functional win and we’d be happy for the forthcoming two-week break. West Brom though hadn’t read any script and came out for the second half probably suspecting Chelsea would be settling for the 1-0, and having seen the Newcastle collapse maybe thought they could rattle us as we sleep walked through the second half. And that’s what happened. As we trod the perennial Chelsea path of cheaply losing possession and our shape, along with a growing sense of apathy from the pitch, the Baggies started to venture into our half and threaten our goal. Inevitably as we stumbled around in a carbon copy of our Newcastle visit the inevitable happened and West Brom equalised. Once again, just like last week, very few fans in blue seemed surprised. My first thoughts were that Cech could have cleared the ball after the initial save, but on a second view he’d fallen on his backside after the first save. Questions may be asked about how Shane Long could out jump our defenders but some credit is due for his determination in doing just that.
I had hoped this would spur us into action but no, we had passengers on the pitch and unusually Mourinho hadn’t spotted, or had ignored our weak spots in midfield. Oscar, for me, had another poor game aside from one decent free kick. He insisted on either being under Ramires’s feet or running into blind alleys. I like Oscar but he’s not firing at the moment and I hope he gets it back. In hindsight I think Mata should have replaced Oscar earlier because when he came on the team seemed to lift a little. Within a few minutes, the usually dependable Ivanovic had surrendered possession after a two-footed jump tackle narrowly missed him and West Brom got the ball and Sessegnon took an opportunity to sling a scuffy daisy cutter shot at our goal. Now 99 times from 100 I’d expect even the lamest goalkeeper to get a shot like that, but it was sort of near post-oriented and Cech feebly allowed the ball to roll under him. It bought back happier memories of Leeds United ‘keeper Gary Sprake doing similar at Wembley in 1970 from the late Peter Houseman. (Younger fans may need to search on Google for that glorious episode in our history.) But it was dismal, woeful and abject goalkeeping. And it just adds fuel to my fire that Cech needs competition. Schwarzer is decent back up but he isn’t competition and for me Courtois needs to be back next season competing with Cech for that coveted shirt. What worries me about Cech is how rooted to his line he is these days. He doesn’t command his box. He is no better than Ed de Goey. A decent shot stopper on his day, but suspect in the air, a bit of a flapper and worryingly susceptible on the near post. I want my ‘keepers to be like Schmeichel, loud, intimidating and scary and bellowing and putting the fear of God into his defenders and the opponent’s attackers in the proximity of the goal. Cech has been a good servant and great at times, not least of all Munich 2012, but maybe it’s time to rattle the cage of security with some competition. After this we saw Mourinho bring on Mata, Ba and Mikel. And then proceeded to play our football pretty much camped in the West Brom half. We missed sitters, as is our wont, Ba conspiring to miss a superb drilled cross from the impressive Cahill, and Willian putting a free header over the bar from six feet out. But as time wore on it looked like we’d left it too late.
As the 4th official held the board up signalling four minutes minimum (please note all you pundits and early leavers, it’s a MINIMUM time) the fans seemed resigned to the fate of defeat… well it had to come at some point didn’t it? Hmm… one thing about Mourinho teams is they play to the very last whistle, and with what would have undoubtedly been the last attack of the game, in the 94th minute, Ramires ran into the box and Steven Reid. He went down. No arm raised or cry for a penalty, but Andre Marriner took a few seconds for dramatic effect, and blew the whistle pointing to the spot. Unsurprisingy West Brom were collectively furious, fans, management, players and no doubt even the Hawthorns’ toilet cleaner. But the ref’s decision is final and despite the bickering and protests (which saw four or five West Brom players booked), along with three or so minutes of delay, up stepped the ‘son’ Hazard to please the ‘father’ Mourinho with as cool a penalty as you’re likely to see. Say what you like but that was a pressure penalty and his dispatch was almost Ballack-like in calmness. Of course we celebrated furiously which was odd because we’d expected a win, but in hindsight seeing yesterday’s results, that celebration was for the point gained against three rivals in Arsenal, Spurs and Citeh. And as much as anything else, the drama meant that emotion erupted at the end of what for large parts was a pretty average game.
Was it a penalty? Well having seen the incident live and thought he’d dived, then reviewed it many times on playback, I think it was perhaps soft. But thinking of how the referee had given any contact from a Chelsea player to a West Brom player a free kick in their favour, my conclusion was that anywhere else on the pitch and that’s a free kick for the majority of referees, ergo, if it happens in the area then it’s a penalty. What it wasn’t was blatant cheating. It wasn’t even a passable impression of anything as blatant as that we’ve seen from Ashley Young. And for Michael Owen and Alan Shearer to sit in the Match of the Day studios calling Ramires out for diving is just the most blatant example of pots calling kettles black. And Robbie Savage and Stan Collymore sounding off as if Ramires had done terrible things to their wives, mothers, grannies and pets was utter cuntery (© Jonny Dyer) of the highest order.
So a few final thoughts. Yes we were lucky. Yes, we’ve dipped in form in November as usual. Yes our ‘problems’ are unusual apportioned as they are to a surfeit of fabulous talent and making it click correctly. But Saturday was also about hard work, and Mourinho was right about how hard we fought to get back into a game threatening to spiral into a nasty defeat. In the end you reap what you sow, even if Lady Luck does hand you a bucket of good fortune. I’ve seen enough decisions on penalties go against us to know we were overdue something like that at some point. For me we need to look at Mikel or Luiz. Mikel is calm and has matured into a great water carrier-type player, and every team needs them. Luiz might have had the manic creative streak to make something happen. And we missed the industry of Schurrle as well, a player growing more impressive every time I see him.
Finally, a controversial point to finish on. I bow to no one in my admiration of the fabulous service we have had from Frank Lampard, but I do think I might be witnessing the start of his decline. He was appalling in this game. Any pace he may have had seems gone, witness the yellow card for a late tackle, a carbon copy of one he got versus Citeh. His passing seems way off beam and to be brutal he just got in the way. We should pick on form not achievement and for me The Charmed One is misguided in his unswerving faith in Frank. For me he needs benching, to come on when we need something of his mercurial talent, much like Giggs is used at United. He is still useful, but the signs of decline appear more obvious. I can’t help thinking that subconsciously he’s lost something since achieving the goals record. And knowing it’s likely to be his last season as a player with us and England having reached the century of caps. Add to that a consequent eye, perhaps on Beckham’s Braves or whatever he calls his soccer franchise, or a coaching role under Jose either of which may also be affecting his form. We need to start learning to live without Frank. Carefully and with dignity and respect. He deserves so much of that.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!