The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “West Ham, given their relegation fears, would normally have given thanks for a point against Chelsea, but they felt wronged here when Matthew Upson was deemed by the referee, Mike Dean, on the advice of his assistant, to have fouled the substitute Daniel Sturridge. Frank Lampard converted the penalty at the third attempt, after the official ruled out the first two kicks for encroachment.”
Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Upton Park saw more conversions than an estate agent yesterday. Dean had correctly given West Ham a first-half penalty, ably despatched by Alessandro Diamanti after Ashley Cole brought down Jack Collison. Yet shortly before the hour-mark, Dean wrongly penalised Matthew Upson for a legitimate challenge on Daniel Sturridge, presenting Lampard with his chance which had to be taken three times because of encroachment.”
The Times, Oliver Kay: “The season is becoming a slog for Chelsea, who have won only one of six games in all competitions since their resounding 3-0 victory away to Arsenal three weeks ago, but it must be hard for Carlo Ancelotti and his players to fret when the competition are struggling to rise to the challenge.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “A frustrating 90 minutes couldn’t provide the win needed to move six points clear at the top of the Premier League, as we eventually had to settle for a draw at Upton Park.”
What more could we ask for as we approach Christmas? We have snow. We have cold crispy proper winter weather. We had midweek Premier League football. We had Rage Against The Machine battling some factory production line, goody two shoes, soon to be anonymous ‘pop’ singer for the hallowed (discredited surely… Ed) Christmas Number 1 spot. And winning, showing that some sanity and individuality does exist in the world. We had Rage Against The Machine swearing on 5 Live despite being asked not to (red rag/bulls spring to mind), and even George Michael jumped on to the Festive expletives bandwagon. We had adult pantomime in the pub on Friday making it seem more like Christmas than ever… or maybe it was the free flowing Guinness doing that. And of course we had the joyous festive sight of Liverpool’s new start to the season bringing two defeats in a week helping sink them and Mad Rafa further into the mid table mire. Is anyone still unconvinced of his slide into insanity after his bizarre post match comments? Follow that with our close friends(?) and neighbours Fulham popping a cap into the Manchester United arse with a well deserved 3-0 win to give us the chance to build a nice cushion for our arses as we go into a tough festive set of fixtures and things could be quite pleasant as we open our goodies on Christmas Day.
But, of course we’re Chelsea, so nothing would be that cut and dried, especially against a West Ham team generally regarded as being much better than their position suggests and genuine Chelsea legends Zola and Clarke no doubt determined to get things right today. There was of course the added complete disregard of my own away form from The Dear Leader, Nick, who in a cavalier, nay swashbuckling and devil-may-care manner swatted aside the concerns of fate and superstition to hopefully break the unfortunate series of away game reports I’ve had to cover thus far. Surely, us not wearing that accursed kit would help, if only to soothe the furrowed brows on the many thousands of irrational bi-polar Chelsea fans willing to blame anything for some poor results, no matter how illogical that might be.
Unlucky kits my arse.
It nearly worked Nick, nearly.
Well the first shock was the absence of our best ball player, Anelka, apparently unavailable due to a hamstring injury which even prevented him being an option from the bench. Anelka has been, for me, a key player for us and his absence is like Essen’s, Lampard’s or Drogba’s. You could label him one of our ‘signature’ players if you like. Like many I sighed when I saw Kalou’s name as the replacement, but in the interests of fairness secretly hoped he would take this chance to really show his worth and justify his selection. But I was, as usual, wrong on that score. More on Kalou later. The second potential talking point might also be the further rather sordid revelations about our Captain’s apparently dodgy dealings, surrounding cash payments in leather folders, sullying his name as Chelsea leader and England Captain as well. Whatever his new agents are telling him is wrong and if he has any sense he’ll despatch them immediately and sign for someone who isn’t out to make him look like a shady money grabbing shyster.
We started brightly enough and it was apparent that Lampard had read my recent criticisms of him, because he was far more up for it today than recently. A good early snapshot from Frank tested Green, an alleged target for us in the New Year sales, but then Green, from the resultant corner, did a passable impression of Cech as he flapped aimlessly at the cross, which in turn led to a decent penalty shout as one of the Hammers boys decided to try a bit of early shirt swapping by trying to get Kalou’s one there and then. We looked comfortable though, although more than a little lethargic from time to time. We pressurised well but I always had a sense of West Ham’s doggedness and work rate being higher than ours. The most card happy and penalty giver referee this season, Jasper Carrott lookalike Mike Dean picked the wrong moment to close his eyes and miss Gabbidon’s impression of Thierry Henry with a blatant piece of ‘commande de main’ since that fateful night in Paris. Carvalho was back to his best and worst, showing great defending discipline at times and then getting a stupid yellow card on 27 minutes. Kalou was invisible again, but Drogba wasn’t much better. Joe Cole was bright to start but crowded midfields don’t seem to be his forte and the half descended into a scrappy turgid affair. But with what seems lately to be an inevitable foot shooting incident the once again off colour Ashley Cole made a slightly unnecessary tackle in the box and Dean didn’t hesitate in awarding the penalty. Diamante stood up and stuck home a perfect strike. Cech was nowhere near it but then we all know he is just about the worst penalty stopper playing at this level. You might as well leave the goal open and hope the striker misses. On the stroke of half time this was a blow and for the 90 seconds or so following the goal, we looked wobbly. When half time arrived it was a slight relief and a chance for Ancelotti to have a word with a misfiring team.
For the second half Ancelotti took some brave steps and whipped Kalou off for Sturridge and the hapless, hopeless Malouda for Mikel Obi. Sturridge looked busy, and Obi was immediately a calming influence, putting in an impressive 45 minute shift. Joe Cole was fading fast and I suspect he isn’t fully match fit after what was a very serious injury. Drogba huffed and puffed, but whereas the question was whether him and Anelka could play together, the new question is whether they can play without each other. Our two best players were Ivanovic and Lampard, the only two really matching West Ham for commitment and work rate. Drogba had one inspired effort from the right early in the half, which was inches wide, and had it gone in would have been a serious contender for goal of the season. But that was his best of the day. Then after some good work from Sturridge, who by making the most of a legitimate Upson tackle in the box, won us a penalty. Up stepped the thus far excellent Lampard to tuck the ball past Green (whose record on penalties is excellent). Game on. Or so we thought. Jasper Carrott decided to make us retake the penalty on the basis that six West Ham players has encroached as Frank took the strike. Step forward again Mister Lampard. Once again the shot struck home, and yet again the ferret faced ref ordered a retake. For the third time Frank stepped up and rifled home again and this time Dean saw sense and let the goal stand. This was jobsworth refereeing at its worst. If the ball is in the net then why does it matter how many have encroached? The remainder of the game ebbed and flowed between the teams and for the neutral was no doubt an absorbing affair. I watched it pretty much between my fingers because we blew good chances with poor finishing or wasted passes. West Ham should have had another penalty for Carvalho’s awful challenge in the box. But that evened up after the lack of a decision when Green floored Kalou in the first half.
It was not good, and once again we looked devoid of ideas, at least until Zhirkov came on for a worryingly knackered Joe Cole. Zhirkov immediately set his level to that of the best players on the pitch. Branners, Frank, Mikel Obi, Noble, Diamante and deserved overall Man of the Match, our former charge Scott Parker. As the game edged towards a draw both sides missed chances to win, arguably West Ham having the best attempt when a late Franco header was matched only by Cech’s alertness.
An honourable draw to some, a missed chance for others and no doubt an unmitigated disaster for those with no real grip on the nuances of football. I’m somewhere in between but suffice it say this was NOT the sort of performance that wins Premierships. Despite Carlo’s attempts to change things early, it looks like a team that without Essien and Anelka will struggle to impose itself on purportedly weaker opposition. And that has to be a worry.
The Christmas Morning Santa Corkers Section
- Branislav Ivanovic. Reassuringly reliable and hard working. Like a Volkswagen.
- Frank Lampard. Maybe he’s eased off the horizontal jogging with the delightful Miss Bleakley, but today he was back to his imperious best. And he has balls the size of ostrich eggs to take three penalties without any doubts appearing to set in.
- John Mikel Obi. That’s the way to do it son. Just do what you did today and everything will be fine.
- Yuri Zhirkhov. Bright, fast, creative and this makes his lack of shows this season even more mysterious.
- Scott Parker. He carries on like this and Carrick will be staying at home this summer. Good to see him on this form and always thought he was a tad unfortunate not to get more time with us.
- Better defending. We looked a bit more solid for most of the match today.
The Comedy Christmas Socks Section
- Mike Dean. A traffic warden in a previous life. A doctor’s receptionist in another one. Fussy, pernickety and downright annoying.
- Half time Santas doing keepy-uppy. What the fuck?
- Salomon Kalou. He had a big chance today and blew it. Swapped out at half time so maybe that’s a clue? But he wasn’t our worst.
- Joe Cole. Bright start but faded badly and missed a very good chance in the second half. Looked gutted when he came off, but also knackered. I’ll be kind and put it down to a lack of match fitness. He needs to look up more.
The Christmas Pudding Section – thick, sludgy and bloating
- Florent Malouda. A shadow of the guy who played in the FA Cup final and lit our end of season last year. Seriously off the rails again.
- Petr Cech – 7/10 – Much better from Cech apart from the normal cluelessness on the penalty. An elf rather than Santa.
- Branislav Ivanovic – 8/10 – Marvellously committed performance and must be pleased with this season’s efforts. Santa as played by Bruce Willis in a panto version of Die Hard.
- John Terry – 7/10 – Sliding in form and authority, no doubt flustered by ‘bundles of cash’ allegations. Sort it JT because this just makes you look like a fucking twat. And a greedy one at that. One of the goats in the nativity play.
- Ricardo Carvalho – 6/10 – OK display but really takes chances in our own box which makes him a liability. King Herod due to his Mr. Nasty demeanour today.
- Ashley Cole – 6/10 – Looks lost and lacking in confidence lately. Would make a good flock watching shepherd.
- Florent Malouda – 3/10 – The donkey. Slow, plodding and played as if carrying a heavily pregnant woman.
- Joe Cole – 6/10 – The Snowman. Melted away when exposed to the heat of the game.
- Frank Lampard – 9/10 – Santa. Unswervingly reliable and the bringer of the present we needed.
- Michael Ballack – 6/10 – Average. Nothing special. Like a faulty cracker.
- Salomon Kalou – 4/10 – Found his way round the pitch like a pissed reindeer with about as much ball skill. I wonder if his and Malouda’s swift substitutions have deeper meaning with the January window about to open?
- Didier Drogba – 7/10 – Tried hard but missed his French mate. Like Santa with no Rudolph.
- Daniel Sturridge (sub for Kalou) – 7.5/10 – Busy and battling, like he has a point to prove. Which he has. Another elf who could come good.
- John Mikel Obi (sub for Malouda) – 8/10 – Calming and reassuringly with some added spice. Mulled wine.
- Yuri Zhirkov (sub for Joe Cole) – 8/10 – Bright, skilful and was in danger of lighting us up. The Christmas tree.
- ***NEW*** Manager Rating – 6/10 – Uninspiring and starting to lose some fans. A man trying to play Santa but forgetting the outfit, presents and jollity.
- Overall Team Performance – 7/10 – Quite a few more vegetables than you’d like on the plate.
Man of the Match
For the game Scott Parker, but for us, it was the magnificent Frank Lampard. Good to have you back Frank.
Well after the midweek struggle I half expected this. Is it a slump or a blip? Well come the evening of the 28th December after the Fulham game we’ll know, but if we are to have a decent Christmas then we’ll need to be a few orders of magnitude better than we’ve been since destroying Arsenal. Birmingham are on a very good run of form and are dogged in a fashion that reflects the granite jawed nature of Alex Mcleish. Fulham have shown their credentials with a great win in Basle and a veritable duffing up of Manchester United and will be eager not to wilt at Stamford Bridge. This isn’t anything Scolari like yet, but the sudden dip in confidence and energy in our game has to be setting alarm bells running. My concern is Ancelotti’s apparent apathy to this. I get the impression it’s all about the Champions League, which although important is still secondary in most fans’ hearts to the Premiership title. Someone in the club needs to ram this home to him and quick. Yes, we’re top and yes we’re looking a good bet, but when we lose Drogba, Essien and Mikel Obi then we look alarmingly blunt in attack. And Ancelotti looks decidedly uninspiring currently. Maybe it’s a demeanour thing, but he seems devoid of much charisma and presence. Maybe it’s just coolness but I don’t see much passion there either and I hope dearly we haven’t got another Benitez like automaton. I do want some fire on display. I want to see that he cares like I do.
So, a poor show, average at best results in an honourable draw against two favourite sons trying to make their way in the world. The damage done today is not catastrophic and I would like Zola and Clarkey to succeed and one day maybe be the main men at Stamford Bridge.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!