Sunderland 1 – 2 Chelsea: Blues survive scare

Despite the whinging, moaning and generally embittered and envy-tainted anti-Chelsea sentiment so prevalent in the attitude and comments by Adrian Chiles on the normally excellent 6-0-6 on 5 Live tonight, I think we can honestly hold our hands up and say we deserved our hard fought victory over Sunderland today.

The match itself was pretty good, although Chelsea again showed they are not a team who play well over two halves. Once again our first half showing was… well… a bit Airline FC like to be honest. We played the passing game well enough but Del Horno seemed unable to make a pass successfully and Makelele and Lampard gave the ball away far too easily. Like Airline FC we seemed content to pass it around our back four without really making any headway, and when we did you just got the impression we wanted to score the “perfect” goal… a mistaken footballing philosophy that cost Airline FC dearly last season.

Almost inevitably though Sunderland surprised Chelsea… and not least themselves when they scored first through the hard working Liam Lawrence who seemed to be on a single-handed mission to cover every inch of the pitch at least 3 times. Now there’s a boy who’ll be feeling his legs tomorrow! A speculative cross from Julio Arca was headed down by John Terry, unusually for him not very powerfully, only to fall kindly for Lawrence to ping it brilliantly in. Del Horno thought he was walking round Tesco’s doing a leisurely bit of shopping instead of marking the man he should have been and truthfully he’d played poorly up to the goal. Wayne Bridge should surely be given the chance to regain his place soon. Also I think that Cech may have done better here and got down a bit quicker. From behind it seemed clear that Lawrence only had one gap to aim at and I think Cech could have anticipated this a bit better. I still think Cech has a weakness here and in his command of the box in general. For such a tall person he never seems confidant at collecting crosses like the greats before him. In fact he always looks a bit scared, as if something terrible might occur like his shorts fall down to reveal a tattoo on his arse proclaiming his undying love for Pete Burns! At least in the last couple of games Cech has calmed down his propensity for hoofing the ball aimlessly up the field all the time. If he has ambitions to be as renowned as Peter Schmeichel then he has to learn to boss his area more, and to throw and pass the ball out rather than hoof it to the opposition.

Still Sunderland’s tails were up and they continued to press, whilst Chelsea slowly but surely strangled their attempts and looked more and more menacing. No doubt the goal hurt. It took time though and I don’t think we can really keep playing these half hearted, maybe even apathetic first halves. Better teams will take advantage — Manure FC being an example. It is too dangerous to assume that we can always come back against teams no matter how good we think we are, and how bad they actually are. Still the inevitable equalizer came as William Gallas played a deep cross that looked on its way out until Joe Cole (looking a bit bedraggled and haggard after his bedroom themed re-creation of Escape from Colditz earlier this week) caught the ball on the line and headed back to Crespo for an easy nod in. Crespo is certainly a man who can score in a variety of ways and looks better each week. And this time around he does seem less worried about messing up his hair. In all honesty he is a quality striker and surely it’s only a matter of time before he nets a hat-trick instead of the obligatory one goal.

In the second half the Special One must have had words because as we’ve come to expect the Chelsea team that came out dominated the possession and created chance after chance. Crespo and Robben must wonder what pills some of these ‘keepers take before facing them because we’ve seen so many inspired displays against our top players this season. Shay Given, Maik Taylor, Mark Schwarzer and Roy Carroll have all played blinders against us… and all… err… lost and today Kelvin Davies stopped chance after chance, winning himself the Man of the Match award, deservedly I would say. Perhaps there’s an unknown line in Superhero tablets that give you the ability to leap and react faster than the human eye can see. Certainly any sniper would have had trouble hitting these ‘keepers on their match days against us.

But when you have 70% of the possession and have had 17 attempts on goal to their 5 attempts then something’s got to give and eventually Arjen Robben, who had caused problems on both sides of the pitch, eventually found the ball on the right, remained unchallenged which allowed him to find a gap, put the ball on his magical left foot and rifle it in from 12 yards. It did take a deflection and according to Sky, and with the way he was playing, there is every chance Kelvin Davies would have stopped it. The deflection though just took it past the ‘keeper. It is indeed a cruel game.

And this was shown even more so by the frankly ludicrous, petty minded decision of Christopher Foy to issue a second yellow card to Robben for celebrating with the fans. No doubt a career as a Traffic Warden awaits him upon retirement, although he may be deemed a bit too vindictive and petty for that group. Sky showed the rule afterwards and it clearly states that the referee “must show common sense” in these decisions. In all honesty Robben’s first card was very dubious and it just seemed that this referee wanted his bit of fame. The minute the ref does something as stupid and moronic is the minute the ref becomes the story, especially if Sunderland had come back into the game. When will they learn that we are there to see the players and not them? Yes, players should be disciplined for cheating, bad tackles, even having too much to say… but for celebrating a goal with your own fans? He didn’t even pass the perimeter fence, and the fans rushed to meet him. Surely the ref could have had a word and told him not to do it again? The best referees are the anonymous ones and even the other refs watching this game must have winced when they saw him do this… well maybe not as they all seem to be cloned from the same strand of Himmler’s DNA. One has to ask why Stuart Pearce wasn’t booked yesterday for doing exactly the same thing when City scored the third against Manure, and for leaving his technical area? Where’s the consistency and common sense?

It did change the game of course and what had been a pulsating display of attacking flair versus dogged and desperate defending now became an exercise in strangulation versus revived but futile hope. First off was Crespo for Carlton Cole. Unfortunately Carlton Cole is not one for the future in my view. We should go to Spurs and offer Cole and £15 million for Jermaine Defoe who’d cut his wedding tackle off to join us with the way Jol is treating him at Spuds FC. This was followed by Huth for the excellent Eidur “Former Carthorse” Gudjohnsen. Midfield is definitely his best position, as shown by one or two rather wayward long shots today. His ability to hold the ball up and make telling passes reminds me of Mark Hughes when he was with us. On came Huth and the message was out there: we are defending what we have. Always a dangerous game, especially with 10 men. The last 10-15 minutes of the game never came close to matching what had preceded it as we slowly asphyxiated any remaining guile and passion from Sunderland through calm and unruffled defending and judicious use of the long hoof up the park and into Row Z passing.

In the end a deserved and hard fought win against a plucky side with more spirit than they rightfully should have considering their position. A game we dominated according to all the stats, but one in which Sunderland can take some heart. The learning experience their young squad will take from this season should mean an immediate bounce back after their inevitable relegation. You can’t help but smile at the gallows humour coming from them when Mick McCarthy says “We’re on a roll now” after beating non-league Northwich Victoria last week, and the fans’ comments that losing today means “mathematically we can’t win the Premiership!”.

For us it’s now 61 points from a possible 66, 10 victories on the bounce after Manure done us (so how does Benitez win Manager of the Month for the second time?) setting yet another record for the Special One, 16 points in front of Manure who face Scousewhiners FC next week in a game that we should hope ends in a draw, especially if we beat Charlton at the Bridge. We haven’t won Premiership title number two yet, but by God it would need some collapse to stop us.

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