That face. Those impossibly tight, squinting eyes. The bulging veins. The sheer, unadulterated, open-mouthed aggression to form the sharpest of grimaces, one which has sent opposing outfielders and goalkeepers alike leaping for cover, weekly, for so many years.
Are you going to tell him it’s not his goal?
“Great ball from Lamps, I just managed to get a touch on it and I think it came off Tim Howard in the end as well”, was the characteristically bold claim from the Chelsea skipper as his side edged ahead of opponents Everton at the death to avenge September’s Goodison Park defeat and stay top of the table for at least another round of fixtures.
Whether yesterday’s ϋber-fashionably late strike at Stamford Bridge, officially timed at 90+3 minutes, should go to John Terry, whether it belonged to Frank Lampard or whether 50% of the Match of the Day voters were right for inexplicably suggesting a shot-on-target that hits the goalkeeper’s arm and goes in should be credited to said keeper, will matter little to SW6 regulars.
This was a huge moment in the Blues’ campaign, and no mistake. One man who will be especially pleased this morning is manager Jose Mourinho who, having made the point of focussing only on his own team pre-match, following criticism of his more wide-ranging recent interviews, desperately needed his side to revel in the spotlight bestowed upon them. Although, naturally, the Portuguese played up his own part in this crucial victory.
“At half-time with the score 0-0, normally my change would be a different one but I felt I had to control the game. So I sent on Ramires and he gave much more consistency to our midfield.”
Brazilian midfielder Ramires, who replaced countryman Oscar at half-time due to a mystery injury, which Mourinho refused to diagnose on the grounds that “That’s what the opponents want to know”, had come closest to scoring with one of several long shots from the hosts that flew inches past the far post just a few minutes before the game’s pivotal moment.
In a match where both sides failed to capitalise on spells of reasonably sustained pressure, each keeper was called upon to parry efforts either side of the interval, latterly from the home side’s Eden Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic, after Leon Osman had tested Petr Cech’s fingertips for the visitors early on. However, honours seemed destined to end even until the stoppage time intervention of the old Lampard-Terry axis.
Mourinho acknowledged the necessity for good fortune to overcome Everton’s efforts, noting: “Of course, when you score after more than 90 minutes, you can say luck is on the side of your team. The reality is that we chased a lot. I feel sorry for them because maybe a point for them was fair. But we tried to win, so in general maybe we deserved it.”
His counterpart, Roberto Martinez, was less accommodating in his assessment of proceedings, offering accusations of gamesmanship and even alluding to conspiracy when discussing the day’s events in the context of the home dugout’s ever-lengthening 74-game unbeaten streak on the Fulham Road.
“They used every trick in the book to get advantageous situations”, remarked Martinez, who grumbled that the last-gasp set-piece from which Chelsea finally scored “wasn’t a free-kick at all” before going on to suggest Mourinho and co.’s incredible run “must be down to more than football”.
The Spaniard was right for championing his team’s role in what was a finely-balanced contest, as the Merseysiders cancelled out their pace-setting opponents with a patient, probing approach that created a catalogue of problems for full-backs Ivanovic and the tireless Cesar Azpilicueta, who was singled out for praise by Mourinho and is increasingly coming to terms with his unfamiliar positioning in this set-up.
But it was Terry who provided the most telling contribution on his return from injury. While his leadership and understanding with Gary Cahill was vital in his own half, it was quick-thinking at the sharper end that put paid to their guests’ decent display and hassled keeper Howard into allowing a dangerous, in-swinging Lampard centre to squirm beyond him at the Matthew Harding end and send Blues fans into delirium.
It was not that Terry’s feet-first slide was “brave”, as Martinez put it, but that it was a sign of anticipation and alertness still missing from those of his team-mates employed to do the job on a more regular basis.
Until one or more of the strike force discovers that same killer instinct, trophies may remain narrowly out of this blossoming Chelsea squad’s reach. But with their captain leading the charge from the back, few would dismiss his team’s credentials, let alone his gauntlet-laying assertion that “It’s down to the others to catch us” in this, the season of inconsistency at the league’s summit.