Chelsea travelled to Villa Park on the back of a run of three straight wins in the Premiership — their best series of the season. So perhaps a fourth successive victory was too much to hope for, especially as Villa were playing their first match under new management, with Graham Taylor back at the helm. You can normally expect a team to put on an improved performance with a new boss freshly installed, as the players are keen to make an impression to ensure they figure in his long-term plans.
However, Villa were mediocre at best, while Chelsea just looked knackered. The deluge of recent matches, which has seen the Blues play twice a week seemingly since last August, and the euphoria of the win at West Ham earlier in the week both seemed to have taken their toll as the players looked jaded and not quite at the races. But even so, it was not a bad performance by the men in blue.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink missed the first chance of the afternoon when he headed a Graeme Le Saux cross wide of the near post early on. But Villa then started to exert some pressure that resulted in Paul Merson converting a cross from the right flank from what looked like an offside position. Emmanuel Petit and Le Saux certainly thought so and berated the linesman for not raising his flag. Their stick was nothing compared to the purely verbal abuse thrown at the lino by the Chelsea fans seated behind him though, turning the poor chap’s ears blue.
Chelsea threatened rarely for the remainder of the half but Eidur Gudjohnsen blasted a clear chance over the crossbar when he should have done better. Villa started the second period in the ascendancy, but after Claudio Ranieri replaced Gudjohnsen and Albert Ferrer with Gianfranco Zola the Blues pressed forward and began to seriously threaten an equaliser. It duly arrived when Zola’s ball into the area was nodded back by Hasselbaink into the path of Frank Lampard’s well-timed run and he finished clinically.
Chelsea went looking for a winning goal and Lampard missed the best chance when the Villa goalkeeper missed Hasselbaink’s cross completely with an attempted punch. Sadly, the England midfielder could not react in time and the chance went begging. Villa threw on Dion Dublin in an effort to score a winner but he was well off the pace of the game.
During the course of an extended weekend stay in Birmingham, I spotted Dublin at a local bowling alley where he attempted to barge to the front of the queue for those oh-so-tasteful bowling shoes. You will no doubt be pleased to know that his efforts were about as successful as his bid to get to the front of the queue for a place in Villa’s starting eleven.