FATE TO BE DECIDED
37 games, 25 wins, nine draws and three defeats; 64 goals scored, 25 conceded. The vital statistics which have shaped our season so far. But come Sunday, the only number which will matter is 90, and more significantly, the 90 minutes against Bolton Wanderers which could decide the fate of our whole campaign. Sure we’re relying on Wigan to get a result against Manchester United at the same time, but technically we could only need a single point to send the Premier League trophy hurtling back down the M6 from Old Trafford to Stamford Bridge. This being the first time in the competitions history that the top two sides are level on points means that we could make history on Sunday afternoon, and perhaps rather poignantly the opposition have been involved in some of our recent legacy-making matches of bygone years.
Although you won’t need reminding, cast your minds back to a balmy April afternoon at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton. Two goals from Frank Lampard sealed the Blues’ first league title in half a century as Sam Allardyce’s Wanderers side twice let in the midfielder who took his chances with aplomb. Fast forward one year and it was almost the same story, as another 2-0 win at the Reebok put Chelsea within touching distance of back-to-back championships, with John Terry joining Lampard on the score sheet this time around.
However, last season, Bolton came to the Bridge and got their own back. Chelsea had again been chasing Manchester United, and were patiently waiting for a Red Devils slip-up (sound familiar?), and as Alex Ferguson’s side were playing away at Everton and behind at half-time, this surely was to be the moment the Blues were waiting for. Er, not quite actually. Chelsea were ahead at half-time but a shocking 45 minutes saw Kevin Davies equalise for Bolton and United overturn their own deficit to win at Goodison Park. But let’s forget about all that!
With only Carlo Cudicini and Ricardo Carvalho doubtful for Sunday’s game-although there is some confusion over Nicolas Anelka’s eligibility for the game following his January transfer from Bolton-a near-full squad is available for Avram Grant to choose from. With the Trotters all but safe from relegation, it could be assumed that they now have nothing to play for in the final game of the season. Let’s hope so anyway! They have defender Nicky Hunt and first choice ‘keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen out until the summer which means stand-in stopper Ali Al-Habsi-probably the best player from Oman to ever play in the Premier League-will again be between the sticks for Bolton.
After such a turbulent league campaign it is amazing to think we are joint top of the table going into the curtain-closer. Back in early August we made hard work of a 3-2 win over Birmingham City at the Bridge, and at the start of September we lost our first league game of the season against Aston Villa. Dropping points at the hands of Blackburn, Fulham and Portsmouth among others, it appeared as if this wasn’t to be our year. Meanwhile, Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo in particular steamrollered their way past teams week after week, but we somehow managed to stay in sight of them.
Then came our incredible end to the season which has brought us where we are today. Unbeaten in the league since December against Arsenal, we have kept going, and kept going, and kept going. Character building wins over the Gunners and United in particular have stood out. That’s why we’re joint top. That’s how we play. That’s why we could be 90 minutes away from the Premier League title.
We will have one eye on Stamford Bridge, and one on the JJB on Sunday afternoon, but our thoughts are undoubtedly with the boys in Blue at Chelsea. Because whatever the outcome, I am sure you are as proud of them as I am, and I hope we can show them exactly what we think of them from the first whistle until the last.
What a season, what a year, what a team!
Prediction: A loud, cauldron-like Stamford Bridge will witness another home win and another notch to add to the record, but it will be a nervy 1-0 to end the season.
Oh, and Wigan will hold United to a draw. Believe.