Everton 0 – 1 Chelsea

Match reports

The Guardian, Andy Hunter: “Michael Essien’s first-half goal brought Chelsea a merited win to move them to within two points of Manchester United, albeit having played a game more, and the resilience that thwarted a late revival from David Moyes’ side gave their manager another statistic to throw at his legion of detractors at Stamford Bridge.”

The Times, Matt Hughes: “Most neutrals would not take long to decide whom they consider to be worthy champions, but Chelsea deserve great credit for pushing United farther than anyone else, particularly given the injuries and internal problems they have encountered this season. Very little of it will find its way to Grant, the first-team coach, but he must be doing something right, if only making sure that his players perform with professionalism.”

Daily Telegraph, Tim Rich: “The Winslow Hotel opposite Goodison Park is the kind of place that specialises in beer and banter rather than spa treatments and Egyptian cotton sheets but last night it was advertising a psychic evening. Avram Grant might have been tempted to remain on Merseyside just to ask what kind of future he has at Stamford Bridge. This morning it is still unclear.”

The Independent, Ian Herbert: “Avram Grant delivered a bizarre press conference at which he was barely willing to communicate and said he did not know whether his side were still in the title race … [He] offered no explanation as to why he was refusing to answer questions. Staring at a table in front of him and fiddling with his track suit zip, the nearest he got to an explanation was: “Maybe [I’m] upset because it’s been a bad season.” But his incoherent performance provided the clearest indication yet that the pressures at the Chelsea helm are beyond him, and that he might be struggling to cope.”

Official Chelsea FC Website, Andy Jones: “The game was by no means a classic, memorable only for Essien’s slightly fortuitous goal, and the peculiar scheduling of a Thursday night.”

The goal

41′ Essien 0-1

The good

  1. Good grief. You’ll never guess… we scraped another 1-0 win. To be fair, after the Wigan debacle any win is welcome, but there is no doubt we’re scraping through games now and convincing wins seem restricted to home games against teams having a bad day at the office. Nothing in this display has convinced me that anything is different from the whole of the Avram Grant reign.
  2. The result. Alex Ferguson knows we’re still breathing down his neck, but the breath is now lukewarm and fetid, dissipated by the growing distance between the two teams. Maybe not in points, but most certainly in verve and style. A Devon Loch style collapse is all that can help us now.
  3. No guard of honour. This result means there’ll be no Premier League march past for Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, no matter what the result. Good. I couldn’t stand another guard of honour moment. Jose Mourinho, like Ferguson didn’t use that ‘honour’ to salute the Champions, he did it so the sting of failure would serve to remind them of what the difference between winning and losing was.
  4. Michael Essien. Old Bison balls has come back with a roar, and at the moment he is our scoring machine. Who’d have thought that after his dismal to-date performances… well maybe not his but his body double’s performances then!
  5. The defence. Tighter than an Ann Summers cock ring… err… or so I’m told. Another clean sheet and three points in a tricky North West grim slugfest is never to be sniffed at.

The bad

  1. The performance. Yes, yes… I know we had the German lynchpin, Michael Ballack, missing, and our own English ‘boys own’ hero, Super Frankie Lampard, out as well as future Ice Dancer Didier Drogba, but a team with Nicolas Anelka, Shaun Wright Phillips, Joe Cole and Salomon Kalou should be better than anything Everton can muster, but yet again sloppy passing and unforced errors was the order of the night. No matter what the naysayers might argue, our football is worse than it ever was under Mourinho, and even that could be stultifying dull at times, but never as consistently as what we’ve been fed this season.
  2. Thursday night football. In what country does this ever happen at the top level? Sky have abused their superior rights package and the people most inconvenienced, the fans, are the ones least considered. Fair play to Roman Abramovich for absorbing the costs, but both clubs should be nailing some Sky executive’s bollocks to a wall somewhere tonight.
  3. Shaun Wright-Phillips. Nice bloke, loyal player, not good enough for us. West Ham or Manchester City surely beckons and we should snap the hand off anyone willing to offer £10 million for him. Wherever he goes I hope his career is rejuvenated.
  4. Salomon Kalou-less. As frustrating as ever. A man with his skill really needs to smarten up on the decision front.

The ugly

  1. Phil Neville. Separated at birth from Luke Chadwick? Piss-poor footballer as well.

Player ratings

A shorter ratings review tonight due to Open University commitments.

Apart from Joe Cole on 7/10 and Michael Essien on 8/10 and the wooden spooners of Shaun Wright-Phillips with 4/10 and Salomon Kalou with 5/10, all the rest get the default 6/10 for turning up and playing in the right colour shirt.

Overall team performance: Competent-ish, dull, workmanlike, uninspiring. Not a good one for any neutrals, but that’s the story of our season overall – 7/10.

Man of the Match

Michael Essien. Welcome back Mickey boy.

Final thoughts

Avram Grant’s tactical genius and inspirational leadership, or dogged determination from the players now playing on memory alone? I know what I think and I’ll repeat the message… is this really what Roman and the gang want to see? Is this entertainment? Is it football? Yes, they’re Jose’s players, bar a stuttering Anelka (which I do blame on piss-poor man management from Grant), but just like Gordon Brown who still blames the Tories’ last spell in government for today’s political woes, how much longer can Grant and the club spin the line that this isn’t Grant’s team? Shouldn’t a great coach be able to improve any set of players?

As for the game… well a competent performance from us, and Everton, but a dour game between two teams whose season’s promise has wilted somewhat. Maybe that was too be expected when both sides were unhappy with the pathetic fixture reschedule by the Sky TV knobbers. For me, it’s more of the same and every passing day and comment from the club seems a case of ‘jam tomorrow’. It was interesting to hear Pat Nevin on 5 Live this morning expressing the views that we were about to go Dutch next season, with either Frank Rijkaard or Gus Hiddinck about to put their pants on outside their tights to aid our cause. Frankly either would bring a smile to my face after the drivel I’ve watched for most of this season.

Fellow contributor Mark described himself as nuts for going up to see this, but I see it more as extreme bravery and dedicated loyalism… nah… it’s nuts Mark. I’ve reviewed the game from the comfort of home, so I’m hoping Mark will add a complementary comment for this review to cover any gaps.

Is next week judgement time for us? Who knows? It could be the end, or the beginning, or the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning. That sentence alone would be enough to confuse our managerial team!

Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!