Phew, that was a close shave. And I’m not talking about Andre’s face! The North East may have the Angel of the North but today the guardian angel was on our side.
Typical of recent performances 1-0 is a dangerous position for us. First half we were marginally better than of late and less soporific. Second half started OK but the whole ground knew that, if we didn’t quickly cement our lead, it would be a stressful last 20 minutes. For much of the game we’d conspired to make Bendtner look half decent but in the final moments he showed his true colours and missed a sitter.
The first half
Started brightly and it was hard to understand how Sunderland had managed to string their decent run of results together. We were dominant without creating too many chances.
After a decent move Mata found space on the right and crossed to the far post. It looked like it had been over hit but Torres leapt into the air and, from a horizontal position, his scissor kick crashed against the bar. It was one of those “wow” moments in football. His leap was majestic and the technique and power of shot spectacular. Nothing like Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick against City last season, where the fat bastard looked like an overladen Airbus A380 struggling for lift off before fumbling the ball home off his shin. This was more like a Harrier Jump Jet, with rapid vertical take-off. More the pity then that it crashed against the bar but thankfully Frank was in the right place at the right time to tap home.
From that point forward Torres only had to put one foot in front of the other and the crowd were applauding and singing his name.
The second half
Forty-five thousand of us were desperate for a second goal because we all know how fragile we are at 1-0. The second goal didn’t happen and so it transpired that we spent the last 20 minutes sitting deep and hanging on against a bread and butter team.
With 15 minutes to go Lampard was substituted for Essien for his welcome return from injury. I was surprised by this move and, with Essien having had so little match practice under his belt, I feared he would be exposed. Strangely Essien was our best player for the remainder with some crisp passing. I’m still conservative about his potential contribution for the rest of the season.
Other highlights of the half were valid penalty claims by both teams followed by a nice Torres dribble in the box which concluded with him being booked for diving after he was felled. These refereeing idiosyncrasies caused many fans to question the length of Phil Dowd’s neck. Additionally Cattermole, true to form, put himself about enough to earn a red.
The player ratings (using Standard & Poor’s credit ratings)
- Cech – B – Seems unable to distribute the ball. If he’s not tapping out short balls to put our defenders under pressure, he’s hoofing up high balls with swerve to the wing and expecting short arse Mata to control it.
- Cole – A – Some decent interceptions.
- David Luiz – A – Settling down and no calamities. Made one very good interception second half to save us.
- Bosingwa – CC – Will Cahill’s imminent arrival mean his days are numbered, since Ivanovic or Luiz could move to full-back?
- Terry – A – Still strong.
- Romeu – BB – Decidedly iffy game which is a shame because he’s my current favourite. Kept passing backwards or to the opposition. Maybe he kept getting distracted by Essien on the bench.
- Ramires – BB – Not to his normal standard and made two shocking pAAsses in the last few minutes when we could have killed the game off.
- Lampard – BBB – Notched up another goal to keep him rising on our all-time goal scoring chart.
- Meireles – BBB – Decent enough.
- Torres – AA – Sometimes he’s performed like a Kia Picanto 1.1 68bhp 5-speed manual, which is perfectly satisfactory if you’ve only laid out seven grand, but today he fulfilled his price tag and performed more like a Rolls-Royce Ghost with leather headlining and a gold-plated Spirit of Ecstasy up front. If only his scissor kick had gone in!
- Mata – BB+ – Needs to add some body weight.
- Essien (sub) – CCC – Rather like Greece it’s going to be a long road back.
- Malouda (sub) – D – Worst possible credit rating. Why? Because he’s French. How dare those tossers cast aspersions on the British economy. Still, they’ve got their just deserts by being downrated.
We’re better off than we were this morning which is all that counts, assisted by Spurs and Liverpool dropping points.
The press reports
The Observer, Amy Lawrence: “This was a game that promised changes afoot in Chelsea’s make-up. Michael Essien was thrilled to make his long-awaited return to the midfield heartland for the first time since last May, Gary Cahill watched on with an excitable smile from the stands, and Fernando Torres looked like a brand new player – or more pertinently, an old player. This was much more like the version that terrorised the Premier League in his Liverpool days. But for all the possibilities, Chelsea walked off to enjoy a narrow victory mindful that Sunderland had caused more than enough nervy moments.”
The Sunday Telegraph, Oliver Brown: “A hex hangs over Fernando Torres, and even this cultured exhibition of the lone striker’s art did nothing to lift it. Here it was Frank Lampard who profited from the Spaniard’s rotten luck, staying stationary as his team-mate’s exquisite volley cannoned off the crossbar and in, courtesy of his shin. The freakish strike proved enough for Chelsea to thwart a resolute Sunderland side, but only a goal of Torres’s own could have satisfied a man who has still not scored in the league for almost four months.”
The Independent on Sunday, Glenn Moore: “Chelsea cannot close games out the way they used to and Sunderland, as might be expected given their manager and their form, refused to go quietly. Busy, vibrant and resilient, they took the game to the London side and with better finishing would have gained the draw they merited.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “Frank Lampard netted for the third game in a row to keep the team’s 100 per cent record in 2012 going. Lampard’s 11th of the season put him clear as Chelsea’s top scorer this season and came early in the first-half after Fernando Torres had been unlucky to hit woodwork.”