A thoroughly deserved spanking from Charlton that may have far-reaching implications for Chelsea when the January transfer window opens in a week.

This was more than a defeat, this was a collapse of alarming proportions and should mean an increased bid for Valencia’s Ayala so that Marcel Desailly can plan his retirement and a long spell in the reserves for Glen Johnson until he learns to play right back.

Our defence collapsed so comprehensively that it appeared we could be hit for six or more by a Charlton attack that has struggled to score against so-called lesser defences.

It was a surprise to see that both Desailly and Johnson were in the team and Gallas and Melchiot on the bench when this would clearly be the tougher of the two Christmas fixtures.

The troubles began from the kick off when Charlton won a corner and Hreidarsson beat Terry in the air to power home a close-range header. It was close enough that you wonder why Cudicini stayed on his line. At first, it seemed the goal had woken us up and we surged forward with Mutu again looking dangerous and it was his free kick that created the equaliser with Terry expertly deflecting the Romanian’s in swinging ball well beyond the reach of Kiely.

We continued to control play with Joe Cole doing most of the prompting as Frank Lampard seemed occupied with Scott Parker. Then a beautiful move saw Mutu set up Cole in the area with only Kiely to beat, but he blazed wildly with his left foot, another sign of why he scores so infrequently. Jesper Gronkjaer had shown early signs that this wasn’t going to be one of those games where he gets involved, although he managed to pick up a yellow card by stupidly bumping a Charlton defender seconds after the ref Graham Poll had spoken to him.

Then Charlton broke away on their left where Johansson had acres of space. He was closed down but got in a slightly deflected cross that appeared to deceive Desailly at the near post. He missed the looping cross and Matt Holland didn’t, putting Chelsea behind again. Once more, you could ask why Cudicini stayed on his line.

At half time, Ranieri took off Gronkjaer and brought on Eidur Gudjohnsen for his first game in a month and you hoped we would break down Charlton’s less than impregnable defence with the diamon formation we took up with Mutu behind the front two.

Instead, Charlton scored from their first attack, Paolo Di Canio finding acres of space on the right side of our defence to twist and turn a desperately retreating Terry. Just when Terry had seemed to have done enough to slow up the Italian and get help, Di Canio got past him to the byline and pulled the ball across goal. Johansson was all at the far post to tap in.

We were now reeling and it wasn’t a huge surprise when Wayne Bridge deflected a looping through ball into the path of Euell who shot under Cudicini for the fourth.

We were stunned and embarrassed. An overhead kick by Johansson could have made it five, but Charlton decided four was enough and sat back. At this point, the only thing to admire was the Chelsea fans singing Carefree despite the fiasco taking place in front of them.

Gradually, we recovered some semblance of a shape and Mutu in particular worked his heart out to try to get us back in it.

Geremi replaced the subdued Lampard after 65 minutes, a decision that seemed to indicate even Ranieri was now looking ahead to Sunday’s game. However, we were starting to find space in the Charlton box and Mutu had a close range shot saved by Kiely and the ball spun across the area where Geremi did very well to get it to Gudjohnsen. Charlton defenders stood off and the Icelander shot precisely inside the far post to give us a glimmer of hope that we could get a point.

It wasn’t to be. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink showed how much he’s slowed by taking an age to get in a shot when Gudjohnsen’s flick left him free in the six-yard box.

That was pretty well our last chance and though Mutu fought to the end, everything looked a little desperate, which it is.

With the difficulty we have breaking down defences, we need a wall at the back. What we had today was a crumbling fence and any honours this season seem remote after our third defeat in four games.

CHARLTON 4 (Hreidarsson, 1; Holland, 35; Johannson, 48; Euell, 53)

CHELSEA 2 (Terry, 10; Gudjohnsen, 73)

Graham Parley – 26/12/2003 22:07:55