The crescendo of boos at the final whistle followed by the chant of: “What a load of rubbish,” fairly sums up this game. Good it was not.
But hang on, was it really that bad? Long standing followers of the Blues will remember the torrid late 70s, the yo-yo 80s and even the depressing early 90s. Yet at the beginning of this game we had only been beaten once, lay four points off the Premiership summit and had the second best defensive record in the league. That is hardly a reason to round on our Italian manager and his team, especially when one considers that neither Hoddle, Gullit nor Vialli’s teams had beaten Blackburn at home.
It simply goes to show either that fans have short memories or, as Bates pointed out in his programme notes, unrealistic expectations. Even Gullit’s glory 1996/97 season saw us lose 13 times in the Premiership. That was almost twice a month. Ranieri is unbeaten at home yet people are calling for his head.
Still, this was a poor game. The Blues had 60 per cent of the possession and still failed to make a decent chance on goal until well into the second half. Everything started brightly and with Stanic on the right wing and Zenden on the left the crowd was expecting to see some exciting, attacking football. Despite the Blues possession it was an early mistake by Terry that saw Blackburn’s Alan Mahon clean through on goal only for Cudicini to splay himself and distract the opposition’s striker enough to see the ball roll the other side of the post.
As for Chelsea, you could not count the chances on a single finger. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who Terry Venables later said had a “bad, bad day at the office” was appalling. Mistimed passes, poor control and shots that went out for throw-ins were all part of his disastrous repartee. It is well known at the club that Jimmy is actually the worst technical player at the Bridge and this was
evident throughout the game. The only consistent things were his shoulder shrugs and arm waving at his mum in the East Stand. Jimmy’s coup de grace was a clear shot from eight yards out that ballooned into the west stand lower tier.
The second half started off more brightly when Dalla Bona and Gudjohnsen replaced Zola and Zenden. Dalla Bona in particular looked sharp, hungry and aggressive — in fact, he was by far our best player on the day. Gudjohnsen almost managed a goal when a superb through ball by Jimmy Floyd (his one and only positive contribution to the game) landed at his feet. Eidur let the ball
bounce only for Friedel to smother it and keep the game at stalemate.
Blackburn did not help by playing 4-5-1 and packing the midfield. But they showed heart and character and with Gillespie outstanding on the wing caused us more problems than we caused them.
And that was pretty much it. The rest of the game was characterised by a lot of huff and puff, misplaced passes but above all a woeful lack of creativity. Other critics point out that the team had all the soul of a zombie on Valium. Too many of our players seem happy to pick up the cheques, but that is about it.
In a recent interview, Bates was asked what he would do again if he had another chance. Without a moment’s hesitation the bearded one replied: “I’d have been even more ruthless.” With that in mind, Ranieri certainly looks like he is on borrowed time. Even worse, our Italian manager has lost the confidence of the crowd. Many of Ranieri’s fans (me included) are now beginning to voice serious doubts over his ability to lead the team to greater heights. One year on from Vialli’s sacking and we seem to have stood still. In terms of flair and excitement we have gone backwards, despite spending £32 million.
Blackburn at home may well be a defining match when fans remember the time when Ranieri was hauled into Bates office and told “arriverderci”.