Across the country this morning there’ll be sore heads, a sense of embarrassment and regret, a feeling of ‘what did I do last night’? Big mistakes were made, people got upset and some may never be the same again. Nothing to do with New Year’s Eve, just the aftermath of a 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Aston Villa.
Calling it a defeat is an understatement, actually. It was a reality check, a humbling, a display of weakness. It was a middle of the road, under-performing, generally mediocre Aston Villa side using their guile to completely catch supposed title challengers Chelsea unawares. It was a team who wanted the win against a side which has forgotten how to win.
Goals from Stephen Ireland – a man left in the cold for most of his Villa career due to what often appears to be a general sense of apathy towards the game, who nevertheless felt that this particular game would be the one in which he could show what he is really made of – Stiliyan Petrov and Darren Bent poured scorn upon what was supposed to be the foundation for a Chelsea win, a first-half Didier Drogba penalty. Drogba had been the victim of a clumsy Richard Dunne trip, and his spot-kick was neatly dispatched past Villa ‘keeper Brad Guzan.
But frustration was the theme of the day for all in blue, and matches both home and away seem to be following the same lacklustre pattern. Juan Mata will happily run with the ball into the danger area, look up, and find absolutely no support in the middle; Drogba will line up a free-kick outside of the box, but blaze his shot high and wide over the bar; someone will make a ridiculous defensive error which lets an opposition player through for a one-on-one with Petr Cech; Fernando Torres…whatever.
All of this happened again at the Bridge. Charles N’Zogbia’s direct run down the left-hand side troubled the Chelsea defence, and he was able to pick out Ireland in the middle who saw his initial shot blocked on the line by John Terry. Inexplicably, in a crowded box, Ireland was the first to react to the rebound, slotting past Terry for the equaliser.
After Gabby Agbonlahor had an aforementioned one-on-one saved after being allowed the freedom of Chelsea’s half, more gaps appeared at the back as the home side pushed forward in the hope for a second goal. Petrov was afforded to much space and did what Agbonlahor couldn’t do, firing past Cech. Then, just minutes later, and with five minutes left of the match, Ireland broke through the transparent Chelsea defence and unselfishly squared for a similarly unmarked Bent whose weak shot was able to evade Cech, despite the ‘keeper getting his legs in the way.
And this is a Premier League side, making the same mistakes game upon game, relying on the same tired tactics and finding themselves now continually falling short of success. Finding themselves unable to break through and create clear-cut chances against the likes of Villa, Fulham and most likely Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday. Finding themselves picked off on the counter-attack by the exact same clubs and conceding as many goals at home as 18th placed Wigan Athletic.
Following the match, Chelsea dropped down to 5th place in the Premier League, overtaken by Arsenal and on the same number of points as Liverpool. Happy new year? Time will tell.