So, was it down to Jose Mourinho’s patience or Johnny Paton?
Chelsea were one down to a Southampton goal scored inside 13 seconds in front of the Matthew Harding Stand at the interval yesterday when 90-year-old Paton used his guest appearance platform to galvanise the Stamford Bridge faithful, calling for the “Chelsea roar” in what was a demanding and daring exhibition of showmanship from the Blues’ oldest living alumnus.
Sure enough, the players emerged with renewed vigour and annulled the deficit before nudging themselves in front through their centre-backs, Gary Cahill and John Terry, the latter on his 400th Premier League outing, before Demba Ba rounded off the afternoon’s entertainment with an injury-time clincher to take his team 2nd, four points behind Arsenal.
While Paton, who played 23 games, notching 2 goals during the 1946-7 season, was busy working the crowd, one suspects Mourinho was issuing a rallying speech of his own inside the dressing room, with a dressing-down surely the only recourse for a performance as flat and devoid of ingenuity as has been seen in many a season here.
“I told them it’s easy to play when you’re winning, but now we have to show character” reported the Portuguese after a match in which his team earned three vital points to distance themselves from their adversaries among the upper echelons in a manner reminiscent of his first spell in the Chelsea technical area.
The second half certainly had the mark of a Mourinho performance, circa 2006; one of those stirring comebacks, the completion of which looked on the cards as The Special One’s “man for every game” Frank Lampard established a foothold in midfield and that had an inevitability about it once the equaliser crept over the line on 55 minutes.
The Saints started like a team enjoying their time in the top third and their purpose was evident from kick-off as they lined up with six players on half-way; three left of the centre circle, one right. But they surprised everyone by playing eastwards and down the inside-right channel was where they penetrated the Blues backline, assisted by an unintentionally sublime, lofted Michael Essien through-ball, to take the lead after under quarter of a minute through England international Jay Rodriguez, who produced an accomplished low finish to comfortably beat a tentative Petr Cech.
Last time out in SW6, former Mourinho-acolyte Steve Clarke’s West Bromwich Albion had sought to unsettle the hosts by switching ends from the start and subsequently only narrowly missing out on victory. This week, seventh-placed Southampton’s ploy paid immediate dividends and led to their shell-shocked opponents in Blue doing little of note with their lion’s portion of first-half possession.
With the half-time introduction of Ba alongside Fernando Torres came a renewed energy and thrust that, although fitfully aesthetically pleasing, proved wholly effective against a young and weary Southampton side, by now bereft of influential first-choice pair Artur Boruc and Morgan Schneiderlin due to injury and whose days challenging the elite suddenly looked numbered as they were overrun by a revitalised Chelsea.
Lampard replaced Oscar, ineffectual up to that point, after the Brazilian turned his ankle just before the break. When the 35-year-old’s number was shown, doubts over his potential impact on such a high-tempo game were shown to be unfounded as the stalwart acquitted himself superbly, providing the composure and leadership required to break down stubborn, well-organised and confident opposition.
“It was important not to panic and keep the emotional balance. We waited for half-time to change the game. Even when Oscar had to come out I wanted to bring in Lampard before changing things.” Mourinho confirmed.
All the home side’s opportunities had come in the air, with Oscar’s tame effort easily smothered by Boruc and Essien looping an attempt over the bar, before Torres forced a fabulous one-handed stop from the Polish keeper.
It was, therefore, no surprise when the Southampton resilience was broken by two excellent headed goals. The first arrived via a stooping Cahill following Branislav Ivanovic’s flick-on of a Juan Mata corner that Ba guided against an upright. The second was an exquisite piece of improvisation from Captain Terry; Mata again the provider after his set-piece was expertly nursed back out to him on the left by Lampard, from where the Spaniard delivered a fine cross to the near-post region which Terry has made his fiefdom.
Ba’s was a real centre-forward’s finish, the out-of-favour striker stretching to prod home after displaying anticipation and athleticism to inch ahead of his man and reward terrific skill from Ramires, whose inviting, in-swinging centre allowed for a richly merited goal from the Senegalese, as well as much vindication for the manager and his methods.
Mourinho ensured his instructions were adhered to even in adversity and, in so doing, attracted just rewards. Bring on Sunderland.