Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Krul can't keep Blues at bay

Newcastle Utd 0 - 3 Chelsea

Even after a few days of reflection, it's still very hard to decide quite what to make of Saturday's meeting with Chelsea. A thrilling encounter in which we could have had the upper hand early on but which we ended up losing by some margin. A valiant defeat against a previously out-of-sorts bunch of superstars who had to turn in perhaps their best performance of the season to beat us. A match in which we were desperately unlucky and yet which we still probably deserved to lose. A contest which served as a yardstick of how far we've come, going toe-to-toe with one of the Big Boys, but which ultimately saw us in disarray, injuries to key defenders proving costly.

For those inclined to dwell on "What if?" moments, the game's key incident took place as early as the fourth minute. Dreamboat slipped a clever pass in to Demba Ba, who was bundled over by David Luiz. That it was a foul and that the Portuguese defender - the Blues' answer to our own Sideshow Bob in the barnet stakes - was the last man is beyond dispute. So referee Mike Dean's decision to show a yellow card was utterly unfathomable to all present. If he felt a foul was committed, it had to be a red card; if not, then either no free-kick or even a booking for Ba for simulation. According to an understandably incensed Silver Fox, Dean later admitted his mistake - too late for us, though.

By contrast, he had no hesitation in awarding a potentially crucial decision against us eight minutes later. Dreamboat made the mistake of dangling a leg out in the area, Daniel Sturridge made the most of it and Dean justifiably pointed to the spot. It wasn't the leg up that the visitors had hoped for, though, with Tim Krul diving low to his left to push Frank Lampard's penalty onto the post and away.

Rather than berating his team-mate for squandering the opportunity, Sturridge seemed to decide he'd take out his frustration on our back four. In the next ten minutes he screamed past Raylor and scythed into shooting positions no fewer than four times, hitting the post once, denied by Krul once and firing wide twice. While we seemed to have Didier Drogba, a regular scourge, well shackled, it was worrying that the Blues' third forward Juan Mata was, like Sturridge, finding space on his flank.

It wasn't all one-way traffic, though, and twice Ba came close to giving us the lead. First his instinctive flicked volley from Peter Lovenkrands' cross was tipped over at full stretch by Petr Cech, and then he nodded a downward header from a Danny Guthrie cross off the face of the far post.

By that point, though, we'd suffered our first injury blow, Sideshow Bob passing the captain's armband to Saylor to be replaced by James Perch. And sure enough our fears about the former Forest man's capabilities at this level were underlined as Chelsea took the lead. Slack marking from a throw-in (hotly disputed by the crowd, but Raylor conceded the ball had flicked off his forehead) allowed Mata time to loft a cross to the near post, where Drogba stole a yard on Perch to thump a header into the roof of the net.

In days gone by, our inferiority complex would have kicked in, but not now. Of course, a side who have to turn to a player like James Perch are hardly on the same level as one who can name a £50m player among their substitutes, but the crucial point is that we refused to acknowledge that fact and came out for the second half in spirited and tenacious mood. It helped that the ineffective HBA, largely nullified by Oriel Romeu, was replaced by the more boisterous Big Lad, but there was a collective rolling up of sleeves.

Big Lad was soon into the action, skimming a long-ranger wide of the left-hand post. Drogba occasionally threatened to add to his tally at the other end, but actually came closest to scoring for us, heading a Dreamboat corner onto his own crossbar under pressure from Ba. The Blues immediately broke downfield with alarming alacrity, Krul foiling Ramires to our great relief.

Since the break, though, we'd got a better grip on the slippery Sturridge and Mata and were gaining in momentum. Lovenkrands, somewhat lucky to get the suspended Spidermag's place on the left side of midfield, was withdrawn, and within three minutes of getting onto the pitch Little Big Lad had had an effort blocked on the line by the increasingly ponderous John Terry.

Our last real chance saw both brothers thwarted, first Big Lad cracking the crossbar with a tremendous shot from outside the area and then Little Big Lad's follow-up smothered by Cech. Guthrie whacked a long-ranger over the bar, but we were running out of ideas and Chelsea sensed the opportunity to finish us off. Perch, who had actually acquitted himself well since that mistake for the goal, did well to block Fernando Torres' shot, but the Spaniard was able to feed fellow substitute Salomon Kalou and the flick his shot received off Krul's fingertips was enough to send it past the man covering in vain on the line.

Saylor had pulled up moments earlier, his immobility crucial to the goal, and with all three substitutions made, we were reduced to ten men. Sturridge finally got the better of Krul in injury time, a goal his display probably merited, but, as far as rubbing salt in the wound of defeat goes, that was nothing compared to the news that we're likely to be without Saylor for the rest of the campaign.

That injury, and the less severe one suffered by Sideshow Bob, cast a long shadow over the next few weeks and months. We're now down to sixth and without our first-choice central defensive unit, one of the meanest in the English leagues.

But the moving and impeccably observed pre-match tribute to Gary Speed helps to put it all into perspective. What's a 3-0 defeat and the temporary loss of a couple of players to injury compared to the permanent loss of a legend of the game at a tragically early age, but more importantly of a son, a husband and a father? We should take pride in another good performance and in the fact that, being spirited, courageous, professional, hard-working and determined, we're currently a side in Speed's image.

A Chelsea fan's verdict: Chelsea FC Blog

Other reports: BBC, Observer

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Anonymous Gate13Dave said...

Chelsea fan in peace.

Nice to read a balanced, well written & accurate match report for once. Normally the oppo's fans views of a match (particularly a defeat) are so full of cliche riddled cr*p that they've lifted from the worst of the tabloids. Thank god there are still some intelligent (but still passionate)fans out there.

By the way love the nicknames, esp "Little big lad".

Good luck for the rest of the season & RIP Gary Speed.

9:11 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great comment Gate13Dave. Good luck for the rest of the season you have an awesome player in Sturridge who is only going to get better.

3:33 p.m.  
Anonymous injury lawyer nyc said...

These injuries have created mess anywhere and everywhere. Whether it's players' careers on stake or the whole team suffering, ultimately everything this ends up with loss.

6:30 a.m.  

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