Was this two points dropped or one point gained? Neither, it was a disgrace. If I have ever seen a team destined for the Nationwide League then it was today. ’Boro had all the charm of Idi Amin, the talent of Posh Spice and the team spirit of the German Army at 4:15pm on 20th August 1945.
The fact that we drew was bad enough, but to draw against this mob of jokers shows clearly why we are still not in a position to win the league. The day started off with mixed feelings. On a good note, the display against Levski Sofia two days earlier was simply outstanding. Superbly measured and controlled passing football left the Bulgarians helpless and it was perhaps the best Chelsea display since we mauled Spurs 3-0 in April.
Hopes were high therefore that we would put Boro to the sword. On a sour note, it was evident that there were 4,000 empty seats. Although 1,000 of them were ’Boro’s, the glaring gaps, particularly in the corporate areas, made one feel kind of queasy. Or was that the half-time hot dog? I just wish that Ken Bates had the foresight to give 1,000 free tickets away to local schools. At £30 a pop not many school urchins can afford a trip to the Bridge.
People might wonder whether the gossip around the Bridge was about the front page of the News of the Screws. The answer would be a resounding “no”, mainly because no one reads it. Still, who gives a toss when four young twenty-somethings get pissed? If anything, it demonstrates that the team is beginning to bond and gel both on and off the pitch. The fact that it upset a few Yanks is hardly front page news. When Omagh, Elliskellen and the City of London bombings went off, did our American cousins have a three-minute silence? Hardly, it was three seconds and that was to let out a burp as a result of a Big Mac. CFCNET was called by Talk Sport to comment on this “terrible” Heathrow piss up. We did not call back. Who cares?
The game started off well. Within three minutes we were 1-0 up as a result of a superb through ball by Eidur Gudjohnsen to send Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink racing clear. Hasselbaink’s first shot was saved but he cooly slotted home the rebound. If anything, the goal did us no favours. Once again Chelsea believed all they needed to do was to show up and they would win. Shades of days gone by. Still, for the remainder of the half we were superb.
Ranieri is beginning to win over his doubters with a clever mix of pressing and strong counter-attacking. The first half was all Chelsea with ’Boro only having one attempt on goal. A free-kick outside of the box was teed-up by Paul Ince who promptly drove it into Boudewijn Zenden’s groin. That was as close to the goal as ’Boro came, apart from Ed de Goey’s usual punch to the opposition which landed on Greening’s head. Fortunately, the Boro star headed over when it was easier to head in.
On 37 minutes Chelsea went further ahead. A corner was taken by Zenden which landed on the edge of the six-yard box. Mayhem ensued only for Jimmy to fire it into the top right corner. It was a carbon copy of Di Matteo’s cup final goal in 2000 against Villa. The half-time whistle blew with the boys receiving a standing ovation, at least from the Harding Upper, and it was richly deserved.
The second half started off brightly. However, while Chelsea started off the half in the same manner as they finished the first, ’Boro came out revitalised. Steve McClaren changed their tactics and strung five across midfield stifling our movement and passing. Nevertheless, Chelsea came close with Zenden, Lampard and Gallas seeing crosses or shots blocked by desperate ’Boro defending.
The game fell apart on the hour mark. A ’Boro corner was headed out to Stockdale on the edge of the box. He promptly volleyed it comfortably towards de Goey only for it to hit the head of Gallas and take a marked deflection into the net. Chelsea started to look worried and tired. Every fan in the ground could see what was coming. The pressing game slowly started to be replaced by a desperate rearguard action with ’Boro sniffing blood.
Ranieri tried to freshen things up by bringing on Morris, Zola and Le Saux but to no avail. As the game dragged on to the 90th minute, hope grew that we could hold on. That was until ’Boro launched a high ball into the box and Le Saux clearly handballed. But was it intentional? The referee thought not but the linesman, who was in a worse position, flagged – penalty.
Boksic fired the spot kick into the top right corner and twenty seconds later the referee blew for full-time. After the game, Jimmy said that we “threw it away”. Think of a cliff, think 1,000 feet up, think of hurling a ball over the edge and you get some idea of what it meant to “throw it away”. Desperate.