The most amazing element to tonight’s match was the crowd. Like many others, we ambled along after an early dinner, expecting to saunter up to the ticket office, buy some tickets for anywhere in the ground and in we would go. Not so. As we passed The Green Room — what was the Cross-Eyed Newt — we were amazed to see a queue, four people wide, stretching from the ticket office out onto the road. I can remember doing this to get tickets for the Barcelona Champions League match (what a night), but for Viking FK? Amazing. If the people at the back of that queue stayed in it, I would be surprised if they saw any of the first half.
Chelsea were without Melchiot, Ferrer, Babayaro, Le Saux, Petit, Zenden and Terry. The Vikings looked big, tall and fit, and were obviously in for a thrashing by a Chelsea fired up from the disgraces of St Gallen and Hapoel Tel Aviv. A worry though was that they had an Englishman up front, Ben Wright.
After a minute’s silence for Ian Hutchinson, who died this morning, Chelsea set off at great pace and were all over Viking for the first fifteen minutes. In fact, the ball was never in Chelsea’s half in that time. Gronkjaer looked fast, Hasselbaink was sent flying by a hard tackle, De Lucas had a shot charged down and there was a bad tackle on Zola. If pressure meant goals, we should have been two up.
After 20 minutes, it was time to start worrying. Chelsea had survived two good attempts from Viking. After excellent singing, especially from the Matthew Harding end, we started to go quiet — so much so that the 200 Viking fans knew enough to sing back at us: “You’re not singing any more.” Embarrassing, or what?
Stanic impressed again with both defensive and creative play. He has transformed since last season. Zola was working, working, working. Hasselbaink latched onto a low pass and, after 42 minutes, scored. At last. It was not much to show for 70 per cent of the possession, but at least we went in one up at half time.
In the second half, Lampard replaced Gudjohnsen and Gronkjaer switched to the left flank. Gronkjaer shot wide, Stanic screamed at Hasselbaink for being slow and Lampard went just wide with a bender from the edge of the box. De Lucas played a wonderful ball to Hasselbaink, who was foiled by excellent keeping from Olsen in the Viking goal — a skinny version of Barthez. Gronkjaer was by now starting to irritate. Regularly, he got the ball on the left and stopped to look and think before getting going, at terrific speed. The good news is that he always beat his marker. The bad news is that the entire Norwegian Army could have assembled around Olsen’s goal by then. He has got to speed up his early movement. He has neutral, first gear and fourth gear, but nowt in between.
After 68 minutes, De Lucas scored a wonderful goal. He received a long, high ball, jinked round it both ways as it bounced, then lobbed it over Olsen from ten yards. Here we go at last. Three minutes later, the new hero De Lucas crossed hard from the right and somehow Hasselbaink missed the target from two yards with a header that went wide of Olsen’s right post.
Zola was everywhere — easily the man of the match. Gronkjaer got worse. At one point he passed the ball to a Viking, then complained to Hasselbaink. JFH himself was not back on form. He looked slow and was back to his whinging ways. After 85 minutes, Gianfranco was substituted and on came Oliviera for his home debut.
Then the Englishman Viking, Ben Wright, headed home for the Norwegians in the 89th minute. To be fair, they were worthy of a goal. Viking are a strong, tall, fit team, well-organised and determined. For all Chelsea’s pressure, it was a fair result. The Blues could have scored at least three more, but then, Viking were unlucky at least twice. And so, to Stavanger. Let’s hope that some of our first-choice players are back, but we were let down by some of them on the night.
Chelsea line-up: Cudicini — Stanic, Desailly, Gallas, Huth — Gronkjaer, Morris, De Lucas, Zola (Oliveira) —Gudjohnsen (Lampard), Hasselbaink
Unused subs: de Goey, Zenden, Ambrosetti, Kitamirike, Keenan