COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
For once we won the toss and attacked the Park End which produced a good ten minutes of Blues pressure. But, slowly but surely, the presence and class of Chelsea started to assert itself... although without much of a cutting edge.
We were a team with determination and both Fellaini and Neville tested Cech but, with Cole (J) prominent in causing panic among our rearguard, I did wonder if it was just a matter of time before their breakthrough would come. Then, just after the half-hour mark things took a turn that altered the whole match and plans of both teams.
The England captain, John Terry, lunged studs high on Osman in a part of the pitch (near half-way line) that kids are taught not to dive in and left the Ref very little option other than to show red.
To say Chelsea were miffed was an understatement and such was their angst both Lampard and Cole (A) were booked for dissent and our efforts to capitalize resulted only in a Yobo shot that had Cech scrambling to save.
Half-time and the chat was could we snatch it against ten and take a Chelsea 'scalp' for the first time in the Moyes era. No doubt the Blues dominated but with little cutting edge; the odd chance had the crowd roaring.
A Fellaini header from a superb Hibbert cross directed straight at Cech, a Hibbert cross that deflected and almost ended up in the top corner, followed by some play from Chelsea that you found hard to believe they only had ten on the park, yet they had little cutting edge despite the much vaunted Drogba being introduced for Anelka.
The ref. who I thought had an excellent game gave Chelsea a free-kick some 25yards out, he paced out the ten yards but the arrogant opposition disputed his length of stride' so he paced it again, was proved right and went back and booked the complainee. Priceless!!
Yobo picked up an injury and hobbled off the pitch. (Why didn't he go down on the pitch and stop the game for treatment?) He left, Baines came on, with Lescott moving to partner Jags. The Blues continued to press and Baines, with ten minutes left, put in a low cross that that begged to be converted but wasn't.
Then with five to go a cross from the right caused one hell of a scramble, which saw Pienaar get the ball over the line, the crowd was up in celebration, the linesman had his flag up, the ref disallowed it. Was it for offside? Kicking the ball out of the keeper's hands? No matter — no goal... but, just to make sure, Cech lay prone for a good minute and a half got treatment and then carried on untroubled. Play acting in the prem from all teams is getting out of hand. Injury time came and went and we all left the ground not sure whether to be pleased or narked.
Man of the match? Probably Jags or maybe Hibbert or Neville — not the ones you want at home against ten men for three quarters of the game.
Overall, I would take a point against Chelsea but the game proved to me we are nowhere near having the squad to challenge at the top four level as today's opponents were even with ten men one different proposition than the City team we faced away when 4-6-0 worked. It may work against other teams as well but there is no substitute for a deep squad if we are to ever challenge at the top table.
Still, no money but a small dedicated bunch of good pros and a manager who gets the best out of them may yet see us finish in a respectable position and once again test the club's ability to move us on.
It is from this standpoint that I am enjoying my season, not expecting too much but ever hopeful that the manager can pull rabbits from hats in January that keep us there or thereabouts.
Tonight reinforced this as I thought both Pienaar and Arteta had poor games yet there was nothing from the bench that the manager could have used with any certainty of improvement.
Not doom and gloom by any means but investment in the squad is the only thing to truly move us on and meet the expectations that have been raised by the current manager. Next up: Boro away on Boxing Day — now that's a 'treat ' for travelling fans???
Who will be fit? Will we have a team? What will the line -up be?... who knows, but ever hopeful — I'll see you there.
A very Merry Christmas to all ToffeeWebbers. UP THE BLUES.
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