On the face of it, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s hat-trick and five goals put the lie to the claim that Claudio Ranieri’s teams can’t play sexy football. However, if anything, this game illustrated just how much Ranieri puts the shackles on very talented individuals.
It was only when Wolves too a 2-1 lead by the hour mark and Chelsea were playing their worst football of this or any other season probably that the manager finally opted for attack and pulled the horribly ineffective Geremi for JFH.
Instead of worrying about closing down space and being solid at the back against the league’s worst team, Ranieri finally let his stars loose and they transformed the Wolves into little spaniels.
JFH looked like the best striker in the world, timing his runs perfectly, showing good control, and finally unleashing the thunderbolts he had shown us in previous seasons. The last 20 minutes were so good they almost erased the memory of the previous 50 minutes. But they didn’t for me.
I thought we’d be in trouble when I saw Babayaro at left back and Geremi and Cole as our “wide” players. It looked to me like a formation designed to crash uselessly against a packed defence. My first mistake. After only four minutes, Melchiot started a move that went through Lampard to Cole, who played a wonderfully weighted ball inside the Wolves defender to Melchiot who calmly shot past Jones.
Now Wolves, who had held out for 89 minutes at Anfield last weekend, would have to come out and we could pick them off easily.
My second mistake. We did put some pressure on them and Crespo volleyed one cross over, but slackness was creeping into our game.
It all went wrong on 22 minutes when Ambrosio threw the ball out to Babayaro who played it instantly short to Terry, and I mean short. Camara challenged Terry who would have won the tackle if he had played his usual game, but he tried unsuccessfully to dink it around the attacker. Camara ran on to put it under Ambrosio.
A few minutes later Cole lost the ball in midfield, not for the first or last time, and a cross from the right presented Kennedy with the simplest of chances from near the penalty spot. He somehow missed the gaping target.
And it only got worse for us.
We looked like a team of strangers with Cole and Babayaro completely disconnected. Geremi on the right was peripheral and the only things working for us were long balls over the Wolves’ back four which kept a high line throughout the game. From one long ball, Gudjohnsen brilliantly controlled and shot but Jones saved with his feet.
Half time came and there would have been chants for Eriksson if Ranieri failed to make move. He did, but weirdly he took off Gudjohnsen, who had been reasonable, and brought on Duff. Either Geremi or the woeful Cole would have been better choices.
There was a brief flurry with Duff crossing to an unmarked Crespo in front of goal, but like almost everything else the Argentinean did today, the header was high and wide.
In on astonishing spell, Makelélé completely mis-kicked into touch, followed by Ambrosio. Then Ambrosio passed the ball straight into touch when under no pressure. This would have been embarrassing on a pub team.
Finally Crespo kicked into life, got to the byline, drew the goalie and played a gently pass across the face of goal. a Wolves defender somehow scrambled it outside the far post when a touch from Lampard would have been enough.
Then the inevitable. A corner on the right from Wolves had Ambrosio charging from his line and failing to get to the ball before Craddock’s head. Terry didn’t jump, probably because Ambrosio shouted.
At last, we went back to two strikers with JFH introduced instead of Geremi. An inspired substitution by Ranieri or belated acknowledgement that he had screwed up with his starting lineup?
The game now completely opened up and Ince fired a great shot from 25 yards that Ambrosio did very well to keep out. Then a lovely move from Cole to Crespo to JFH, who laid it off for Cole on the edge of the area. The shot was vintage Cole, high and wide.
Then a goal that epitomized the game. Makelélé woefully gave the ball away in midfield, but he hustled back to retrieve it on the edge of our area, passed to Lampard, on to Duff, back to Lampard and a great shot from 25 yards inside Jones’s right-hand post.
Now, we were moving with Duff and Lampard behind most of our play. But it was a brilliant individual effort from JFH that turned the game decisively our way. He turned Craddock 35 yards out and showed good control to advance to the edge of the box where he fired a thunderous right-foot shot into the far corner off Jones’s fingertips.
It still wasn’t over and Ranieri substituted Parker for Cole with 10 minutes to go after Cole had again lost the ball in a dangerous area and committed a double foul to stop the Wolves’ attack. How he didn’t get a yellow card is beyond me.
We were now in full cry with Duff skipping along the byline only to be thwarted before we could score and JFH swinging in a corner that defeated Jones but swung just past the far post.
After 87 minutes, a wonderful through ball from Duff found JFH on the inside of his defender and in full stride towards goal. A left-foot shot under Jones and the game was safe.
In the three minutes added on, we queued up to walk the ball into the Wolves net and somehow failed until a Lampard through ball saw JFH beat the offside trap and complete a memorable hat-trick.
It all ended so wonderfully, but why did we have to put up with an hour of the crappiest football we have played in years?