CHELSEA 2-1 STOKE
Now THAT is what I’m talking about.
I’m not going to start getting carried away about yesterday’s result, it was after-all at home to Stoke, the sort of game we’d have expected to win comfortably a year or two ago. But whilst I’m not going to jump around with excitement about the result itself, what I am happy about is the fact that we showed some of that fighting spirit that’s been missing.
We’d gone into the game with all the pressure on us. That pressure wasn’t helped with the news prior to the game that Joe Cole would definitely not play for us again this season, or that John Terry had pulled out in the warm-up with yet another recurrence of his back trouble. Add to that the fact that we’ve been completely without Didier Drogba this season – whether he’s on the field or not – and the damage that speculation has done, and it’s little wonder that even a game against Stoke induces panicked bouts of nail-biting.
So, that’s how it seems to be for us, nervy games we can dominate in and yet never feel at ease while we sit there expecting it to go wrong – and this one was no exception. Yet again we had to sit and watch whilst our dominant possession came to nothing, with us getting plenty of shots at goal and yet struggling to carve out clear-cut chances. Not that we didn’t put in the effort, because we did, we just couldn’t quite break them down and every chance we did create seemed to end in nervous and off-target finishing. And we weren’t the only ones frustrated judging by Scolari’s demeanour on the touchline.
Inevitably, the longer the game went on with us failing to make our possession count, the more confident Stoke got and a goal against the run of play was always on the cards – in fact, it seems to be obligatory these days. And so it was, as Beattie’s through ball was lifted over Petr Cech by Rory Delap.
Scolari had already been preparing Franco Di Santo to come on for Malouda prior to the goal and fortunately didn’t change his plans because the 19 year old started causing them a lot more problems on the right. Bringing on Belletti for Bosingwa later proved even more successful with the Brazilian heading in an equaliser 3 minutes from time. But not content with a point at home this time, Chelsea continued to press the Stoke defence until a late, late Frank Lampard strike gave us a deserved 3 points.
But it wasn’t just getting the winner and the points that felt good today, it was the manner in which it was celebrated. At long last, it really mattered. No nonchalance from the players as if it’s only what they expected anyway, no lack of emotion from the bench as if the manager wasn’t bothered either way, just plain and simple, honest, wetting-your-pants-time excitement.
After scoring the winner, Lampard ran over to Scolari and it wasn’t so much group-hug time as group-hump, with the players and manager at long last showing how much a result means to them.
A delighted Scolari suggested after the game “Today it was important to win because we got three points. We did not concede from a set-piece. They came to me because the players and staff are very happy with this moment. I understand they are happy with this result. I am more happy than they think. The group are more together than before because we have won two games.”
About bloody time too!
CHELSEA: Cech, Carvalho, Alex, A Cole, Bosingwa (Belletti 78), Mikel (Stoch 83), Lampard, Ballack, Malouda (Di Santo 61), Anelka, Kalou
STOKE: Sorensen, Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham (Griffin 34), Wilkinson, Amdy Faye (Pugh 29), Whelan, Etherington (Kitson 84), Delap, Cresswell, Beattie