MARCH 2008 REVISITED

By James Edwards
Apr 16th, 2008

From the diary this month: Hosanna in excelsis, death threats from Jose Mourinho, Polytheism, and a Grant inspired win against the Gooners.

Quote that sums up the season: “think one of ours strengths is we defend well at corners and free-kicks, but in the last two games Tottenham scored against us six goals, five from set pieces. I don’t know how to explain this”. Avram unfortunately sums up why he is not fit to take the team forward. If he cannot explain it how is he going to solve the problem?

Saturday 1 March
West Ham United 0:4 Chelsea
The traditional feast at Upton Park had more spice this year. All the talk before this game was of West Ham catching Chelsea at a bad time, and the rumours of player meetings and snubs for Avram at the training ground made for a bad week. What actually happened was somewhat different.

A brave Avram Grant made six changes to the Carling Cup side, with Drogba out and Cole, J and Ballack back. If it hadn’t worked leaving Drogba out would have been a big stick to give his critics but we needn’t have worried. Anelka slotted a rebound fewer than two minutes into the match, only for an erroneous flag to give the locals hope. The first goal then had to wait for Kalou to be up ended and Frank Lampard to tuck in the penalty. Boos all round. With a touch of class appreciated by everyone in the ground (for different reasons) Frank then kissed the badge on his shirt.

Joe Cole hit a sumptuous volley into the bottom left hand corner two-minutes later, only to up staged by Ballack who hit a crisp half volley into the bottom right two-minutes after that.

Then West Ham had something to cheer, Frank Lampard was sent off for a petulant shove on Boa Morte, who had just kicked him. The linesman was consulted and alleged that Frank pushed Boa Morte in the face. On cursory inspection of the video evidence this clearly wasn’t the case. The decision looked even more ridiculous later when Makelele stamped on someone’s shin and didn’t even get booked.

The Hammers should have come at us with all guns in the second-half but a few comfortable saves for Cech and one brilliant clearance by Terry, who hacked a Carlton Cole chip off the line, was all that the claret and blue side of town had to offer.

Ashley Cole finished from a tight angle after Green saved a low Joe Cole effort and the match petered out. The only reason West Ham were not booed off was because the home crowd went home with twenty-minutes left to play.

Avram Grant, after a chaotic week will draw enormous satisfaction from winning so convincingly with ten men, it cold only happen against West Ham. With Arsenal snatching a late home draw against Villa the title race now looks possible again.

‘If you take the goals out of it, it was quite even’, said Alan Curbishley with no word of a lie.

Chelsea youth 2:1 Millwall youth
The youth team have got their tails up at the moment and powered through this game despite allowing them back into it from 2:0 up early in the second half. The names of Fabio Borini and Gael Kakuta again mentioned in despatches.

Monday 3 March
Chelsea reserves 1:2 Reading reserves
Shevchenko’s appearance here will allow a lot of Chelsea bashers a good deal of mirth. Michael Duberry was back and it was good to see him, although no so good to see him score with a free header from a corner. Leroy Lita made it two ex-Chelsea players on the score sheet for Reading (yes, we also grew up thinking that Glooooorrrrria Hosanna in excelsis, was ex-Chelsea but then we also thought they were celebrating the baby cheeses, don’t get us started on the prairie tortoise). This wasn’t a classic, with the Chelsea team full of the bits from the first team squad, Shevchenko, Sidwell, Pizarro, Ben Haim, and Hilario all played with the younger regular reserves on youth cup duty on Friday it was inevitable that rhythm was in short supply. Franco Di Santo scored a well-taken consolation.

Chelsea have bravely announced an appeal of Frank’s red card. There is the risk of an extended ban following the case of Middlesbrough’s Jeremie Aliadiere last week, when the FA clearly flouted their own code on bringing the game into disrepute by extending his ban because the appeal was deemed ‘frivolous’, despite a strong prima facie case; we’ll find out tomorrow.

Meanwhile 14-16 year-old kids in Guangdong (southern China) will get the chance to compete for the right to visit us next summer. A lot of poor kids will put their all into this but there is no word of a guaranteed contract at the end of it. Officially the series of local TV programmes are designed to ‘promote grass roots football’ in China, or possibly promote Chelsea football club in the region, no.

Tuesday 4 March
Frank is off the hook; the FA rescinded his red card on Saturday. The referee, Peter Walton, apparently admitted his mistake in private before the hearing, which always helps.

Wednesday 5 March
Chelsea 3:0 Olympiakos

Big European nights at the Bridge have never been as easy as this. The Greeks, who two weeks ago harried every ball, closed down and fought us to a draw, simply didn’t turn up. Their fans sang to a man but they couldn’t rouse their team.

Ballack’s early unopposed header gave us the lead from Frank Lampard’s swift cross. Lampard tapped in from a Ballack shot ten minutes later and Kalou scored a cute (as in shrewd, clever not pretty) goal from a corner just after the restart and that was about that for action.

Frank Lampard was mysteriously booked for diving in the box when he had clearly been kicked but incorrect decisions are coming his way at the moment.

Cech twisted an ankle yesterday in training so it was Cudicini who pawed the ball away twice at the death as Olympiakos belatedly realised they were playing a game.

We wish we could add more but really we dominated poor opponents and that was that. We should add that Drogba had a shocker, everything he touched bounced off at the wrong angle.

Thursday 6 March
Jose declared his intent to kill us in Europe next year. We are still unsure where he will be managing, if he will be managing next season but he hinted at Italy or Spain. He did have a few nice words to say about us, how we are still in his heart and how he still regularly talks to the staff and Abramovich.

Harry Worley has signed for Leicester City. On loan until the summer and hopes for a three-year contract. He will come back and score a League Cup goal against us in two-years time, you read it here first. James Simmonds will play out the season in less glamorous surroundings at Dover Athletic.

Saturday 8 March
Barnsley 1:0 Chelsea
Oh, the romance of the Cup. We haven’t had this feeling for a while but on a rainy and cold Yorkshire evening we all got a reminder what following Chelsea can be like.

You have to congratulate Barnsley, and Grant and John Terry were at least gracious in defeat. But from a blue point of view this was a shambles. A strong side found no rhythm and capitulated.

Kayode Odejayi’s goal looked a foul on the keeper. Anywhere else in Europe it wouldn’t have been allowed but there you go, once the BBC pundits have okayed it nobody will question further. We screamed for a foul but then we were all pretty drunk by then.

Grant failed to inspire and having Pizarro come off the bench hardly helped. But Pizarro did provide the clearest evidence of the favouritism of the ref. As he played across the edge of the box looking for a shooting chance his shirt was going to other way. The ref had a clear and close view and allowed play to go on. He allowed almost everything the underdogs wanted to do and blew up for any contact from a Chelsea player.

We are writing a few days after the event and the pain has dulled, everyone has had the digs they’re going to get. We’ll have to see if Grant can win the European Cup or if we’ll have a proper manager in the summer.

Monday 10 March
Birmingham City reserves 0:0 Chelsea reserves

With five members of the youth cup side playing this was all change from last week’s, um, star studded line-up. Not much happened to truthful. Our all-teenage defensive line kept Birmingham’s strikers quiet despite them boasting plenty of first team experience. Stoch and Kakuta both created bits and pieces but nothing like a clear chance. Ricardo Fernandes got his first run-out after recovery from cruciate injury.

Tuesday 11 March
Jimmy Smith’s agent has turned down a chance for him to play for Scunthorpe. He probably couldn’t receive emails from the club.

Tore Andre Flo retired today. He hasn’t been able to recover from injury or claim a place in the Leeds United team. Tore scored some memorable goals for us and we wish him well.

Wednesday 12 March
Chelsea 6:1 Derby County

You have to hand it to this team; they really know how to bounce back. A woeful Derby County showed no spirit in completely collapsing to a Chelsea side showing some of the menace lacking on Saturday.

Frank Lampard hit the post after three-minutes and, to underline how useful he would have been at Oakwell, scored four. Frank opened the scoring from the penalty spot after being fouled himself. Kalou volleyed in from midway in the Derby half after their keeper tried to clear to make it 2-0 at half-time.

Joe Cole tipped in a rebound from an Anelka shot. Frank’s other three came from tap in, a shot on the run and finally a smart turn and shot.

Derby hit back immediately to take the shine off the score line and with twenty-odd minutes to go we didn’t find our rhythm again. By then Drogba and Shevchenko were on and with three strikers on the pitch the ball just wasn’t getting forward. Yes, we can find something to criticise even when we score six.

Anelka frustrated by popping up anywhere on the pitch but up front. When he did play off the last defender he caused mayhem, and to be fair when he came deep he used the ball intelligently.

Friday 14 March
Fenerbahce from the balls-out-of-the-bag in Switzerland, we will be playing the first leg in Turkey on Wednesday 2 April. Arsenal or Liverpool in the semi-final if we beat the Turks.

Avram got his first vote of confidence from Peter Kenyon, who said we’d hired him on a four-year contract and it was not dependent on wining anything this season.

We advise Peter to listen to the crowd at the last game of the season to find out if that is true.

Today is also Founders’ Day finally celebrating Gus Mears’ contribution by organising a tour of Brompton Cemetery.

Saturday 15 March
Sunderland 0:1 Chelsea
John Terry actually scored this afternoon, for the first time since the opening game of last season. It is difficult to put your finger on why John has not scored in sixty-odd matches. It could have something to do with the fact that defenders are now allowed to hold him round the chest or throat.

This wasn’t our greatest display, we found Sunderland eager and competent but John’s header from a corner was enough.

The Black Cats managed to threaten more in the second-half, with Ricky Carvalho missing, the defence looked shaky. Dwight Yorke chipped the ball into the box for Smith to miss twice. For all their chances they never looked confident enough to actually score.

Wednesday 19 March
Tottenham Hotspur 4:4 Chelsea
Aston Villa youth 2:3 Chelsea youth
Look away now if you don’t want to know the score. This was a frantic night of football for Chelsea with the FA Youth Cup semi-final second leg and our league game in hand. That we prevailed in one softens the blow of failing in the other.

The league game first: It started so well, Drogba shook off the lethargy that he brought back from the African Cup of Nations to put us ahead. His free-kick was deflected but as the ball came back in he was on hand to head us powerfully into a lead. It didn’t last, Woodgate headed in a Jenas free-kick. Even so Michael Essien nipped in between defenders and for once he used a subtle touch to score, instead of blasting.

Ashley Cole then made a challenge on Alan Hutton; he caught the Spurs defender as both raised their boots to the ball. Ash looked to have made contact with ball and player but in the current climate such challenges have led to red cards. The players must have remembered that we only get a small fine for surrounding the ref as they crowded round miming the ball as Spurs players waived imaginary cards. Mike Riley is such a weak and incompetent official that he only gave Cole a yellow, personally we don’t think it should have been anything more, but with players being sent off for any contact at the moment he clearly bottled that part of the decision. The reason Ash should have gone was for dissent. He was clearly angry with the ref and turned his back on the official as if to say ‘get on with it then’.

The second-half was going so well Joe Cole was playing a blinder and put us 1-3 up on 52 minutes. Berbatov then cropped up to pull a goal back and it was at that stage we started to lose direction. Grant decided that we should sit on our lead and took Kalou off for Alex. Crap decision but then he isn’t a real manager. Almost immediately Spurs were awarded a corner for kicking the ball out themselves. From that injustice Tom Huddlestone converted the second corner. Despite lacking shape Joe Cole still managed to fire us back ahead, only to be taken off for Ballack. Don’t get us wrong, the German is an important player but in an end-to-end game our best form of defence was attack and our manager contrived to leave us toothless. It surprised no one that Spurs equalised with a glorious strike from Robbie Keane.

Grant clearly isn’t able to influence things positively. He must be commended for keeping us on track after the upheaval of losing our manager but he simply can’t inspire or organise a team. Drogba actually came to the sidelines to ask Steve Clarke what on earth the team were supposed to be doing. It doesn’t inspire confidence that they had not prepared in advance for the tactical switches.

The bright things to take from this must be the verve of our attacking play, the negative that this team is performing wonders despite their manager.

The youth team progressed to the final of the FA Youth Cup in some style in front of some 10,000 at Villa Park.

We fell behind early only for Sergio Tejera to level and Gael Kakuta to put us ahead by half-time. They pulled one back but Adam Philip scored a winner which provided the just result. We looked confident and controlled in all our attacking. Stoch and Kakuta really should get first team experience soon.

At the bottom of the news items today, Ben Sahar is staying in Sheffield for another month with Wednesday. He hasn’t featured much due to injury and illness.

Thursday 20 March
Everyone wants Ashley Cole banned retrospectively, ignoring the rule that if the ref has acted on an offence during a game the FA cannot extend the punishment. You could say that it is punishment enough to miss out on the chance to catch Arsenal and to fall five points behind Manchester United.

Cole himself apologised both to Hutton and the ref for being clumsy and petulant. Alan Hutton seems to be the only one to come out of this with any credit, he said: “He went to win the ball and I’ve just got there quicker, I wasn’t thinking about whether he would be sent off, I knew the challenge was high but so was the ball. I am not blaming him for it; I’ve probably done a similar challenge in my career. He said he never meant it afterwards and that’s fine with me”, which is the most sensible thing anyone has said on the matter.

Capello named six Chelsea players in his England squad. Unfortunately the flouncing dishrag is back for his 100th, and hopefully last, cap.

Friday 21 March
Chelsea youth 1:0 Arsenal youth
It can only be a good omen for Sunday that our youth team missing almost everyone who played in the youth cup semi could still beat highly fancied Arsenal. Adam Phillip scored his second of the week.

Sunday 23 April
Chelsea 2:1 Arsenal
“You don’t know what you’re doing.” Well, perhaps he is starting to work it out.

We left it late this afternoon and frayed the nerves of everyone watching. The first half was tight with few chances. Our best came when JT hoofed the ball out of defence and Drogba ran on only to control the ball with his knee back to their keeper. Ballack had a few shots smothered by Almunia. They threatened occasionally but created few clear chances.

The least said about poor Salomon’s air shot from three-yards the better, although to be fair it would probably have been blocked.

The main problem with the starting line up was Essien at right-back. He was out of position when we lost the ball and rarely linked forward with any conviction. You could say that when the substitutions came the chants aimed at Grant were pointing out that Essien was in the wrong place form the start.

We looked in control of their attacking movement most of the time until they unexpectedly took the lead from a corner. From the corner of the pub from where we saw this one, everyone seemed resigned to losing our home record. Oddly for a London pub there wasn’t a single cheer when Arsenal scored. Usually all the neutrals would have been up for anyone who scored against Chelsea. Today, not a peep.

Avram then did something unusual; he introduced a couple of attacking substitutes. Belletti came on for Makelele and Anelka for Ballack. The chants started in earnest but the extra subtlety in approach from Belletti and the aerial threat from Anelka produced instant rewards. Drogba, Anelka and Kalou were all off-side in the build up to the equaliser but these things even themselves out over the season, don’t they. The ball broke to Drogba ten-yards out and he smashed it into the net.

Anelka headed on another Belletti free-kick for an unmarked Drogba to turn and score the winner. Didier could have had a hat-trick but for a fine save.

For all their menace we never looked like conceding again and we played out a famous win. It takes us into second ahead of Arsenal but is significant for two other reasons: we don’t often beat our friendly north London neighbours, and Avram has finally won a game against a team in the top seven places on the Premiership. This review cannot really do justice to the tension of 90-minutes that could have finished our title challenge but yet, ended with both the challenge and season alive.

Avram can now look up the table only to Manchester United, five-points ahead but still to come to Stamford Bridge and with the harder games. They play Villa, Middlesbrough, Arsenal and Blackburn before they come to the Bridge, while we play Boro, Man City, Wigan and Everton. If Grant holds his nerve and figures out how to pick a side we could be level by then.

Tuesday 25 March
Arsenal reserves 1:1 Chelsea reserves
No clean sweep of wins against Arsenal but another goal for the boy Franco Di Santo brought us level.

Rio Ferdinand will captain England in tomorrow’s friendly. JT will just have to swallow his pride for the time being but Capello will come to his senses. Oh, and behave himself in front of refs.

Michael Mancienne played for the England under 21 side in their less than thrilling draw with Poland tonight.

Wednesday 26 March
France 1:0 England
Another dreary night for England fans. JT had a poor evening and was subbed at half time, Frank Lampard was out with a stomach bug, Joe and Ashley Cole played solidly but didn’t light up the evening. The best Chelsea performances came on the French team. Anelka slipped JT to run on to win the penalty that decided the game. Claude was magnificent in the middle of a four-man midfield and Malouda, from whom we have seen little at Chelsea, put in a performance that suggests we should soon. Perhaps Malouda has had difficulties adjusting to the Premiership and we have been harsh on him so far. If he can play like this week after week, we could almost count him as a new signing.

On other shores: Andrij Shevchenko score for the Ukraine in their 2-0 win over Serbia, for whom the forgotten man of January Branislav Ivanovic played his first game since signing for us.

Thursday 27 March
Peter Kenyon is on holiday again, this time in Kuala Lumpur to announce an Asian tour with one game confirmed against Malaysian all-stars at the end of July.

Scott Sinclair is also off on his travels, again. This time he is switching from Carlton to Crystal Palace. He only managed three subs appearances for Charlton so the move must be for more first team action.

Friday 28 March
Fixture congestion rears its ugly head, even if it is purely of television’s making. Sky have switched our game with Everton to Thursday 17 April, which is an absurd day anyway but comes three days after our game on Monday at home to Wigan on Setanta. The club are complaining bitterly that the move “undermines the sporting integrity of the competition”, because our rivals have six days between games and there is no earthly reason why we should only have three.

Sunday 30 March
Chelsea 1:0 Middlesbrough
Sky delighted in the pictures of the Chelsea fan who slept all the way through this, catching up with her missed hour in the company of nearly forty-thousand other souls all bored to tears.

It started so well, we looked bright and imaginative and threatened form the off with our reward coming from a Bridge free-kick headed in by Ricardo Carvalho within six-minutes.

Everything look set for a comfortable home win an easy three-points and pushing the pressure back onto Manchester United. But comfortable was how we played it from there on in and we so nearly threw it away.

The team seemed to go to sleep after the goal and while Middlesbrough couldn’t summon an effort on target in the first-half, we couldn’t shake off the lethargy. Each Chelsea move started slowly and petered out slowly.

The second-half should have promised much and while we found the range it wasn’t until the introduction of Shaun Wright-Phillips that we had anything like pace or penetration. Shaun missed two sitters in the space of ten-minutes to put the game to bed. What followed was absurd; Cudicini raced from his goal to clear only to make no contact and present an open goal to Alves, luckily the Boro sub to hit the post. Calamity avoided we contrived to make another when ‘defending’ a free-kick from near the corner we allowed both Alves and David Wheater to hit the bar before the ball was blasted behind.

If there is a football god, or gods (we’re open minded on polytheistic models for the football firmament), then he/she/they certainly smiled on us this afternoon.

Man U’s four goal drubbing of a poor Villa yesterday means their goal difference is now an insurmountable twenty better than ours. But with this kind of luck running for us you never know.

Jose meanwhile has said, firmly, that he isn’t going to take over at Internazionale, which, as always, means he probably will.

Monday 31 March
Chelsea reserves 3:0 West Ham United reserves

Claudio Pizarro, Fabio Ferreira and Jack Saville scored the goals in a game of countless chances and plenty of dominant play from a Chelsea IX blending youth and experience. As well as Pizarro poor forgotten Steve Sidwell got a game under his belt.

The real highlight was the chance to watch Branislav Ivanovic in action for the first time. West Ham didn’t muster much to give him a real test, but he threw himself around authoritatively and looked the real thing.

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