Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “Chelsea had lost their title, but clearly not their determination. Good blood and bad was spilt here. Joe Cole, his cheek cut in pursuit of the ball, even had to change his stained shirt, but the abiding memory was of the ill-will between two teams who fought tooth and nail for the Premiership and will soon collide again in the FA Cup final at Wembley. After the guard of honour, the running of the gauntlet.”
The Independent, Sam Wallace: “What did we learn? That the FA Cup final will at least be a pulsating game and also that Poll is Mourinho’s least favourite referee. It is a good job then that there will be another official at Wembley as well as two very different teams. Enmities were building up so quickly last night that Mourinho substituted John Obi Mikel for his own good and Chris Eagles almost dispatched Shaun Wright-Phillips into the East Stand.”
The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “There ought not to have been real hurt in a fixture with no prize at stake. Jose Mourinho’s spat with the referee, Graham Poll, over the award of a foul against Claude Makelele did add an authentic feel to the night for a moment or two but the truth had never really been concealed. These clubs were determined to keep something in reserve.”
The Times, Matt Hughes: “With the possible exception of Anders Frisk, Poll takes the title of Mourinho’s least favourite official and he admitted getting a few things off his chest. The Portuguese had a run-in with him after John Terry’s sending-off in the match away to Tottenham Hotspur in November and he will be relieved that Steve Bennett has been selected to officiate Chelsea’s next meeting with Manchester United. “He’s a referee Chelsea have no luck with and if there’s another referee, we’re happy,” Mourinho said. “We don’t like Mr Poll. With Mr Poll and Chelsea matches there are so many incidents I cannot remember.””
Official Chelsea FC Website: “So now just Everton at home stands between Chelsea and a meeting with tonight’s opponents again. You can bet your house on vastly different teams and a vastly different game.”
- John Obi Mikel. This boy oozes class and for me is one of the best signings we’ve made recently. Yes, he made a rash tackle on some anonymous interloper wearing the red shirt of Manchester United (Chris Eagles anyone?), but this was a reaction to being clattered by the foul and filthy Leeds United agent, Alan Smith. Jose Mourinho needs to work on his temperament, but frankly if I’d been upended like that then someone in red would have found themselves pinned to the floor with my fist pumping into them like a bloody jack-hammer.
- Michael Essien. Utterly magnificent again. The ultimate player? A lesson to William Gallas in how to play for the team without whinging about the position you’re asked to cover? He’s like a bloody rock when he’s got the ball and in fact looks quite accomplished at centre-back, probably because of all the practice he’s had this season. His price tag now looks a snip and next season I think we’ll see even more of his prodigious talents.
- Shaun Wright-Phillips. How one man can turn the tide of my opinion in a few short weeks is nothing short of amazing. As little as three months ago I had Wright-Phillips down as being about as much use as a chocolate teapot. But given a good run in the team has seen him build on confidence and last night his runs down the wing and through the middle were almost on the point of being classed as “wizardry”. Linked with Joe Cole beautifully at times as well as some delightful nutmegs to Paulo Ferreira. Was lucky not to have been badly injured by one of the Old Trafford stewards masquerading as a player for the night (Chris Eagles again, anyone?)
- The attitude. Only one team had any real intention of trying to win one of the biggest ever “dead rubbers” between these teams in recent times. I can appreciate the sentiment of them playing some people they found in a pub in Guildford (also known as their Academy) but at least we did field the nucleus of our first team. Which makes the result even more worrying? Boy do we need some striking options.
- The crowd. A friend of mine in the East Stand told me that it was not good to have to put up with the travelling contingent from Guildford and Croydon singing rubbish songs and generally having a party in our living room. However, hats off to the Stamford Bridge crowd for drowning the idiots out at every opportunity and a big mention to the Marvellous Matthew Harding Lower Choir who really kept the singing going. Highlights were the chorus of “The Graham Poll Show” and the circus clown song after a pinball session in the six yard box which could have resulted in a goal for us. Lowlight was the moronic “Always look on the runway for ice” chant. Sometimes we do ourselves no favours.
- Graham Poll. Quite simply this was the single worst display of refereeing I have ever seen in my life. This abysmal excuse for a referee seemed utterly convinced we’d all arrived to watch him arrogantly strut around the pitch blowing his bloody whistle. All that was missing was a leather trench coat and some jack-boots. He’ll be invading Poland next. I’ve never seen so many poor decisions in one game and such a blatant disregard for his assistants. How is he allowed to still referee Premiership games, especially after his triple yellow card World Cup debacle last year? There was a time when I thought he was a top referee but now it seems his only concern is building stories for his undoubted forthcoming book. I don’t and won’t condone violence but had last night’s game had meaning then I could quite easily see some lunatic fan invading the pitch and lumping him. The FA should step in and now and put him out to grass.
- The farcical guard of honour. Why did we do this? Was it to repay a favour to them because they did it two years ago? Did nobody realize that Alex Ferguson ordered them to do this as a motivational bitter pill? All that served was the need to make them understand what a crap feeling it is to lose out and to act as a permanent reminder that they wouldn’t want to do that again. But… and it’s a big but… if we had to do it then they should have had the bloody courtesy to ensure it was the real players who were honoured and not just the shabby group of imposters and part-timers they fielded last night. That in itself was far more humiliating to our boys than anything else. As Steven Howard highlighted in today’s Sun – our players may as well have applauded the subs bench and Fergie because that’s where the real winners were.
- Wes Brown and the Manchester United players’ tackling. Wes Brown broke Scott Sinclair’s metatarsal with a tackle that Jonah Lomu would have been proud of. An utter disgrace and worthy of a red card in any game that Graham Poll isn’t refereeing. Then Chris Eagles (who he?) decided to try and send Wright-Phillips into outer space with a tackle that Eddie Waring would have described as an “up and under”. They didn’t come to win, they came to thwart us and cripple us. That’s why they’re champions.
- Carlo Cudicini: A spectator who didn’t have to make a single save – 6/10
- Paulo Ferreira: Better than usual and maybe a hint of returning confidence – 7/10
- John Terry: His usual masterful self and a couple of surging runs up the field to emphasize his commitment never do any harm – 8/10
- Michael Essien: Superb and marked down for a petulant ball throwing induced booking caused by a piss-poor decision by Poll – 8.5/10
- John Obi Mikel: Marked down because of a silly booking caused by a red mist reaction to Alan Smith’s “dirty Leeds” mentality – 8.5/10
- Shaun Wright-Phillips: Smooth, assured and confident. Enough said – 9/10
- Wayne Bridge: Our best left-back and consistently provides more than Ashley Cole – 8.5/10
- Lassana Diarra: An assured return to the fold capped by a lovely shot on goal that Thomas Kuczscak was lucky to reach – 8/10
- Salomon Kalou : A future Thierry Henry according to my mate, but last night despite doing some good work he again made all the wrong decisions as previously alluded to by Nick – 6/10
- Claude Makelele: Can still break up the play but gives a way too many free kicks and his distribution was poor again for the most part – 6/10
- Scott Sinclair: Useful and quick, but this would have been a stern lesson in the reality of the Premiership in comparison to the Championship. A good future prospect but cruelly felled by Wes Brown – 7/10
- Ben Sahar (Sub): Similar to Sinclair – needs more experience and was denied a clear headed chance by John O’Shea’s last gasp header – 7/10
- Joe Cole (Sub): Immediately took control of midfield and the flanks and showed some lovely touches and good tackles – 8/10
- Nuno Morais (Sub): Had very little time to have any impact but made two very clumsy and unnecessary tackles soon after coming on – 6/10
Man of the Match
Shaun Wright-Phillips. Welcome to Chelsea, Shaun, it seems you’ve finally worked out what it takes to be a Chelsea player. Great tricks, good passing, great desire and bravery and he should feel genuinely proud of himself.
A game of two Academies facing each other was the general feeling, but in the end the real insult came from Manchester United with their choice of three players not even featured in the squad list in the programme. In terms of the FA Cup final neither team would have learned much about the other. I suppose it was to be expected but it was pretty poor fayre overall, with Chelsea really putting them under the cosh for the last 20 minutes but worryingly failing to score. I guess the real positive was the Referees Association now having enough content for a DVD called “How Not to Referee a Game”. Having said that I got a bit tired of the fans phoning 6-0-6 afterwards and complaining about the game, especially those who had only attended this match. Well, that’s the chance you take when you decide to cherry-pick the games you want to see.
Now we can play a stress free Sunday pub game against Everton and rotate a bit more to refresh players for the big match a week later. One thing is for sure… we need some goal hungry strikers to back up Didier Drogba next year. Without him we look like a goal-drought zone. It’s been a long season and we just need the boys to summon up one last almighty effort in order to stop Manchester United doing yet another Double.
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