PLAYERS MAKE GRANT PROUD
Chelsea’s title charge was over by the time Bolton netted a late equaliser at Stamford Bridge, but once the final whistle had blown on Chelsea’s domestic season, it was Avram Grant who emerged from the dugout with a renewed sense of respect, as Manchester United clinched the title by two points after an epic season. For Chelsea, it was their strongest available lineup that was chosen by Grant, sans the injured Ricardo Carvalho, who was replaced by Alex. Malouda was preferred to Kalou on the left, whilst Joe Cole, newly crowned player of the season, was on the right. Ballack and Lampard were joined by the recalled Makelélé in midfield, whilst Essien again started at right back.
Al Habsi was fit to start in goal for Bolton, though Megson was unsure enough to include two substitute goalkeepers in Ian Walker and Jussi Jaaskelainen. Nolan, Davies and Diouf were to provide the attacking impetus for the visitors, whilst the workmanlike Gary Cahill and Andy O’Brien were the centre halves, in for a busy day.
However, Chelsea were rocked when after 10 minutes, a collision between Petr Čech and John Terry, with Kevin Davies in close accompaniment, causing the Chelsea skipper to lie in obvious pain on the pitch. The Chelsea keeper took a tremendous catch on the edge of the box from a Gary Cahill long ball, but his knee smashed into Terry’s elbow. He was eventually stretched off with what turned out to be a partially dislocated elbow. Juliano Belletti was his replacement, Essien shifting to centre back.
Chelsea rallied for their skipper, and when Chelsea were awarded a free kick 25 yards from goal, Drogba and Ballack again discussed who would take it. It was the Ivorian who pulled rank and his resultant effort flew inches wide of the far post with Al Habsi comprehensively beaten.
Midway through the first half Drogba threatened to burst through the middle, though he was denied by a Steinsson challenge which allowed Al Habsi to collect the loose ball. Chelsea applied the pressure, but were unable to breakthrough for the rest of the first half.
At half time, Grant gambled with nothing to lose, sending on Shevchenko for the ineffective Makelélé and switching to 4-4-2. Malouda half volleyed off the bar via a fingertip of Al Habsi early on, before Belletti has an effort from in the box blocked.
Al Habsi made another smart save to deny Drogba, but Chelsea weren’t to be denied any longer, and who would have guessed that Andriy Shevchenko would score, netting his first goal since the 4-4 Boxing Day draw with Aston Villa.
Joe Cole’s shot was blocked, Lampard’s was going wide and Alex’s flick missed the ball entirely. Johnny on the spot was Shevchenko, who shinned the ball past Al Habsi, to the relief of himself, his teammates and the entire crowd. You couldn’t help but smile.
Cole himself had a chance to double the lead, only for Al Habsi to save again, before Stelios replaced Diouf. Not long after, Cole was replaced by Mikel, the formation switching back to 4-3-3.
With ten minutes to go, the visitors nearly equalised, as Čech’s punch was headed onto the bar by Matthew Taylor. The rebound fell to Stelios, who’s “shot” was cleared off the line by Ashley Cole.
Bolton weren’t to be denied though, as in stoppage time, Taylor struck to equalise. Alex’s clearance was poor and the former Portsmouth man latched onto a left footed strike that went through the legs of Alex and Čech. It was poor defending by the Brazilian centre back, but perhaps could be attributed to a lack of match sharpness.
There was still time for Shevchenko to shoot into the side netting, before referee Foy blew full time on Chelsea’s season. United’s 2-0 win at Wigan crowned them champions, yet Avram Grant was rightly proud of his players, following their gutsy challenge that lasted until the final day. There’s still on very big trophy on offer…
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Essien, Alex, Terry (c) (Belletti 13), A Cole; Ballack, Makelele (Shevchenko h-t), Lampard; J Cole (Mikel 77), Drogba, Malouda.
Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Al Habsi; Steinsson, A O’Brien, Cahill, Samuel; McCann, J O’Brien, Nolan (c); Davies, Diouf (Stelios 68), Taylor.
Referee Chris Foy.