If that was a taster for the FA Cup final then perhaps the ticket pricing for the Wembley showpiece should be altered somewhat. Anyone fancy shelling out £93 to see all that again? Chelsea and Everton played out a tepid goalless draw at the Bridge, and when you’re left rueing a John Terry 40-yard, left-footed barnstormer, you know that maybe it wasn’t meant to be the Blues’ night after all.
With Liverpool dropping two points at home to Arsenal the night before in a ridiculously entertaining 4-4, and Manchester Untied expected to maul Portsmouth at Old Trafford, three points were of vital importance to Chelsea. It was refreshing at first to hear Ray Wilkins say that the first eleven was strong enough not to be rotated, hence the same starters as the Wembleys semi-final win over Arsenal on Saturday. However, Everton brought their secret weapon with them to London, parking their team bus smack-bang in the centre of their box. And to Tim Howard’s relief, it took a fair bit of a battering.
It was Petr Cech who was tested first though, with Jo (later known as ‘hapless’ Jo) finding the ‘keeper’s hands with a header and a low shot, both efforts coming within the first ten minutes of the game.
Chelsea started to make moves forward, and Didier Drogba provided a bit of comic relief with an attempted bicycle kick from a Malouda flick which saw the Ivorian completely miss the ball and land in a crumpled heap on the floor. The next time he hit the deck was after a hefty Phil Neville challenge, for which the Everton captain picked up a booking.
Frank Lampard and Steven Pienaar had half-chances before a Michael Ballack free-kick from just outside the box narrowly missed the target.
The hapless Jo also found himself through on goal with only Cech to beat, so did what all top-quality strikers would do in that particular situation. He fell over before even getting a shot away.
Tim Cahill forced another save from a busy Cech late in the first-half, but the whistle sounded on 45 minutes with the game still firmly in the balance. And Manchester United 1-0 up against Pompey.
Although the Blues had a lot of the ball in the first period, chances did not come as easily. Flashbacks of a few months ago began to enter the mind. Unfortunately, Guus Hiddink couldn’t find the remedy this time.
Alex and Nicolas Anelka threatened early in the second-half before a double change on the hour saw John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou replace the boisterous Michael Essien and the, er, not so boisterous Anelka.
As Everton retreated further and further into their own half, Chelsea pushed up accordingly, with Terry crossing the half-way line on a few occasions. In the 62nd minute he did so, and kept going. And kept going. And kept going, before unleashing a left-footed piledriver which forced the stretching Howard into a save.
Kalou and Lampard followed their captain’s lead with a couple more chances, but time began to evaporate quickly. It was the 93rd minute when Branislav Ivanovic crossed into the box, Drogba controlled and turned, and lashed a shot on goal from just a few yards out. Unbelievably, frustratingly, and with Howard beaten, it struck the bar. And Manchester United were 2-0 up.
The whistle sounded soon after and both sides were put out of their misery.
Hiddink’s 100% home record was over, Chelsea’s title challenge is now surely over, but perhaps the worst thing about the night was if you did what I did, and switched over to the Barcelona game right after ours. They were out of this world, winning 4-0 against Sevilla, though it could have been many, many, more.
And Leo Messi was kept on the bench.