Wednesday night started badly but ended brilliantly. Delays on the District Line meant that many supporters did not make it to Upton Park in time for the kick-off. These were apparently caused by an ‘incident’ — ie: rucking — at a station further down the line. Nevertheless, despite a late entry I was assured that nothing of great import had been missed.
It soon became clear that Claudio Ranieri had kept faith with the starters against Leicester the previous Saturday, except for the suspended Mario Melchiot who was replaced by Albert Ferrer. John Terry created the first real chance of the match when he burst forward from defence, played a one-two with Dalla Bona to give himself a shooting opportunity but fired weakly and straight at David James.
The West Ham goalkeeper quickly started a counter attack by chucking the ball to Trevor Sinclair on the left flank. Sinclair looked their most dangerous player, despite impressive performances by Jermaine Defoe and Joe Cole. On this occasion though, Cole shot high and wide when Sinclair played the ball to him.
Mario Stanic had Chelsea’s only other effort on target before the goals started going in. He cut in from the left and curled a low shot towards goal, but it did not have sufficient power to trouble James unduly. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen were linking up well again, but failed to display any thrust to take them beyond the defence. In midfield, Emmanuel Petit and Frank Lampard were too frequently outfought by their West Ham counterparts.
The opening goal was something of a fluke, as were two of the four that followed. A powerful Defoe shot from a tight angle first cannoned off Terry’s ankle, then off Carlo Cudicini’s legs into the roof of the net. But the Blues hit back shortly before half-time when Thomas Repka conceded a free-kick in Hasselbaink territory with a deliberate handball. With James lining up his defensive wall, JFH hit a low curling shot past his left hand to equalise.
This put the away fans in good spirits throughout the interval. The singing was generally better than it has been for away league matches this season, but the atmosphere was still not quite as charged as it should have been for such a big cup tie. Perhaps this had something to do with the startlingly low attendance of 27,272.
Chelsea started positively in the second half and Ranieri continued where he left off in the first, waving the team forward from the touchline. However, West Ham scored next with their first attack of the half. Marcel Desailly fluffed a clearance and was then muscled off the ball by Schemmel. His cross shot was only parried by Cudicini, straight into the path of Defoe, who — unlike his striking partner Paul Kitson — couldn’t miss. (Kitson could and did so frequently.)
But Chelsea, no doubt full of confidence after the comebacks at Leicester, refused to accept defeat. They pushed forward and were rewarded by the most comical attempt at defending witnessed during a professional football match for many a year. Don Hutchinson paused to put on a pink, frilly dress before attempting to head a back-pass to James like a big girl. Substitute Mikael Forssell pounced on his feeble effort to prod the ball past James for a second equaliser.
Hutchinson came close to atoning for his error but was thwarted by a fantastic reflex stop by Cudicini and the inside of the post denied Christian Daily a goal. West Ham players made a futile appeal that the ball had crossed the line before Cudicini and Terry had scrambled Daily’s attempt away, but it was not even close. Even so, the Chelsea fans sang: “It was in,” to taunt the opposition. For Chelsea, Stanic had a header well saved and Forssell also saw an effort stopped, as was Hasselbaink’s follow-up.
Just as at Leicester though, Chelsea had twice come from behind to equalise. All that was needed to match Saturday’s scoring sequence was a last-minute winner, and Terry promptly supplied it when he headed in Graeme Le Saux’s injury time corner. The Hammers’ fans started leaving in their droves before the final whistle, which arrived thirty seconds after the restart, and the Chelsea fans celebrated wildly. As we stood on our seats to salute the team, my companion lost his balance and inadvertently grabbed my testicles, which for some reason were the first things that came to hand (don’t ask). Not even this vicious assault could dampen my joy, although I may never be able to father a child.
Some of the Hammers’ meat-headed fans did their best to spoil our fun though. A selection of individuals who seemed to have missed out on the whole evolution thing were waiting for us as we left the ground and itching to have a pop where the line of police and stewards finished. They were more pitiful than frightening. My friend and I decided to brave a local boozer rather than the queue for the Tube and spent our time trying not to snigger into our Guinness surrounded by the East End’s finest. Most enjoyable.