COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
Another point toward safety, gained at the home of the league leaders in a game that could be described as being battered into a 3-3 draw.
The team put out could hardly be described as our first choice yet I thought we put in our best performance of the season, not in terms of flowing football but a collective effort of work rate, never-say-die spirit and a discipline that allowed us to defend for long periods without losing shape too much.
Chelsea had the lion’s share of the game and scored three goals — usually enough to beat any team on their own patch — but such was the heart shown today we also scored three, all owed a lot to luck but all were the result of getting forward in numbers when we could and having two players up front, which ensured Chelsea needed at least three back, helped along with us pushing up whenever we could which unsettled the hosts a bit.
The first half started end to end with Drogba pulling one just wide after 5 mins and Jo having a 20-yard drive turned away for a corner by the scrambling Cech. Then on 12 mins we were awarded a free-kick. Baines went over to take it and swung in a good out swinger that Saha rose and headed goalwards, Cech seemed to go down in stages and the ball entered the net via the post.
We had been here before, an early goal at Wembley and then Chelsea pressure and deep defending had done for us. A repeat looked likely as Chelsea took command and did have most of the play but with Saha and Jo staying up field in turns we did at least have an out ball. Sadly Saha in receiving one of those out balls surrendered possession to Carvalho who strode forward into the heart of our defence and found Lampard who put the ball into the path of Drogba and he thumped high into our net.
Chelsea then continued to have the greater share of possession without really breaking our ranks and troubling Howard. Our back four and central midfield were mopping up most things and, if Pienaar and Bilyaletdinov had not been giving the ball away so easily when we did break, our progress forward would have been greater.
Then in the 25th minute we conceded a corner which we failed to clear properly and a scramble in our box broke out which ended with the ball falling for Anelka who delightfully chipped into the far corner.
I feared the worst but our heads didn’t drop and, although Chelsea again attacked, Howard didn’t have a lot to do. We broke when we could but still suffered from the Pienaar/Bilyaletdinov problem with ball retention yet both were covering acres of ground to help out defensively. Jo and Saha were causing some problems for the Chelsea rear-guard and Fellaini and Rodwell were trying to be both creative and spoilers as the situation demanded.
From one foray foreword Jo clashed with Terry and ended up writhing on the deck holding his side, he returned after treatment and our play suggested we go into the break just a goal down as the board went up showing 3 mins of overtime.
Jo went down again in a clash with Terry this time holding his ankle and this time he didn’t return — instead, the Yak arrived over the allotted time; in that extra time added we gained a throw-in near the corner after Bilyaletdinov had chased the defender to the by-line causing him to put the ball out. The Russian took it from a standing throw, reached the six-yard box into a crowd of players and, after a scramble, Baines poked the ball back in, fed the Yak and the Yak did what he does best from a few yards out. 2-2 and the faithful responded with glee. How it was 2-2 at the break was perplexing but very welcome.
The half-time chat was ‘See what you get going 4-4-2 and never giving in’ and it was hard to argue with those thoughts.
We expected Chelsea to come at us from the off and so did the manager has he had our team out on the pitch a good few minutes before Chelsea emerged and looking determined. Chelsea didn’t disappoint and attacked... in fact, they attacked incessantly; on the hour mark the pressure paid off when the willing Saha, back defending a cross, fell over whilst trying to clear and gave the ball away which resulted in a cross coming in that Drogba swept home after pulling wide of the far post. I felt sorry for Saha as he was a real live wire and a constant threat to Chelsea yet he had been culpable in two of their goals.
Would the flood gates now open? I wondered... but no, we just didn’t lie down and continued to harry Chelsea all over the park in a responsible way and broke when we could and our breaks were looking better as Pienaar was now showing some form going forward.
Less than 5 mins after going 3-2 behind we were level again with a large slice of luck. Baines was fouled as he made progress up the flank but this time Heitinga took the free kick. He hit it straight into the heart of the Chelsea defence, Saha rose but it went over him and a Chelsea head nodded clear but Saha seemed to hang in the air and the ball rebounded off the back of his head into the net leaving the faithful ecstatic and a row breaking out among the Chelsea players.
Half an hour still to go and it was anybody’s guess what the final outcome might be. I found those minutes fascinating as Chelsea probed and tried to pass around us and when we matched them with our defensive qualities and gritty fighting spirit they tried the direct route but every player stood strong and Howard was not much troubled.
This was the league leaders and favourites for the title we were playing and there seemed to be a sense of ‘they’ll get one eventually’ but that did a disservice to our lads who kept their shape and nerve causing Ancelotti to make 3 subs to try to alter things. But, no matter what they tried, we were a match for them — in fact, no real panic was caused in that last half hour.
At the whistle, our draw was celebrated as a win, the manager and players saluted the fans, the Chelsea fans booed as they are not supposed to do anything but win against the likes of Everton, which just goes to show how unpredictable this game of football is.
Overall I thought it was a good point even if a bit fortunate but you have to get the ball in there with bodies to get your luck.
I think the players have learned since the debacle at Hull that, even with many injured players out, it is no excuse for feeling sorry for yourselves and to realise that they are professional footballers, many of them full internationals; they have to play to their full potential at all times.
Many have said that the spine of our team has been ripped out yet today I thought our result was because of a strong spine. Howard, Heitinga, Neill, Fellaini, Rodwell, Jo/Yak and Saha did superb and it could be said that the Neill/Heitinga partnership handled the Drogba/Anelka strike force better than Yobo/Lescott did at Wembley.
Jo is a bit of an enigma for me, he always looks as though he might do something then manages not to. I don’t know what to make of Bilyaletdinov even though he needs time to settle in the country and the Prem. I have yet to see that spark of something that says ‘yes he will be fine when he settles’... hope I am wrong on that one. What all the players we have available should be striving for is to ensure that when the injured are fit again they don’t just walk into the team.
My man of the match was Fellaini closely followed by Heitinga and Saha who looked like he was fit and led the line superbly. Rodwell also did a fine job although not as noticeable as some others he was never far from Lampard who in consequence had a quiet game by his standards. Hopefully these last two results will give us the confidence to turn draws into wins over the Christmas and New Year period.
BATE Thursday evening, I wonder how many players the manager will rest ready for the Birmingham game? See you Thursday to find out.
UP THE BLUES.
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1 Posted 13/12/2009 at 15:57:30
The manner, Ken, seems to me just as you said. It was a cause never abandoned, surrendered. The lads ran their sox off for the cause. And a point — even a goal — at Roubles Mansion is an achievement. As you are properly recovering let me inform you that the media have called this a Chelsea failure rather than an Everton achievement. That's up to them. Tossers.
Heitinga - getting better as his scouse gets more fluent. How does "Don’t fuckin' stand der, stand eer" translate into Flemish/Deutsche anyway?
2 Posted 13/12/2009 at 16:46:18
I think he could be a beast of a player in years to come.
3 Posted 13/12/2009 at 16:49:40
Great to see Yak scoring again, the chance looked easy but the way he passed it into the net was quality. There are plenty of goals in Saha and Yak if they can get a run of matches together.
4 Posted 13/12/2009 at 17:42:22
I always forecast Fellaini would be great for us and no surprise that’s exactly what he’s becoming. Bily clearly needs time, lets hope he’s OK, but Fellaini is doing just great.
Acute and IMHO very fair observations on Jo as well Ken. He has been slated on here by one or two who don’t need naming but will be on here soon to re-state his apparent uselessness. It was obvious from his form in Russia that the kid has something. He looks great in some situations and then it doesn’t work out. His early contribution which led to a great effort on goal was real class. Yak had a bad injury, often one that plays in the mind long after fixed apparently, and he needs time. So Jo good for now.
I have thought Yobo, great guy that he is, a liability for at least 2 years. I think Neill needs to learn some discipline (like not stupidly kicking & pushing attackers), but he’s reasonably solid. Heitinga looks quite the part. Distin looked like he did when I last watched him at Pompey, useless. So centre of defence will be interesting.
Tough decisions lurk, with Arteta, Neville and Jags back before too long, and young Seamus Coleman banging on the door. I will also be pleased to see big Victor back in a blue shirt. He was starting to show more skill and application, and strength, when he was assaulted by Nolan. The kid’s lost almost a year of his career thanks to that shithouse, as has young JV (a tragedy).
I guess the upside is, barring further luck of Satan, if we do progress in cups then team selection could become very interesting.
5 Posted 13/12/2009 at 19:04:59
The only thing that pissed me off yesterday: Bily was clearly wasted and knackered by the 75th minute. Yet DM persisted with him till the end. Granted, we are down to bare bones but surely Coleman, or Agard or Akpan can do no worse than Bily at that point.
6 Posted 13/12/2009 at 19:09:56
You do not, after a good result like yesterday’s, think it a priority to try to identify a group of under-performing players instead of appreciating a good team effort in the face of stern competition. Because you do not see all things in terms of black and white you do not believe that everything our club does is wrong.
Like all of us, you indulge in the fantasy of wondering how your own team selections and substitutions might have performed but you do not engage in the delusion of believing that your choice would have always achieved a better result. I think your balance, subtlety and obvious love of our team is a refreshing change to so many vicious and negative comments which are a too common a feature of this site.
7 Posted 13/12/2009 at 19:36:39
For once I had the pleasure of watching Everton get a result, live on TV - the first time this season. I too thought Fellaini was immense - the Brasilian commentators I was listening to singled him out for his box-to-box presence.
I have to say, though, that we rode our luck and I spent the best part of the game with my heart in my mouth. Chelsea had too much space and too many chances. Too often we had players (Bily and Peanuts) who were out-muscled and gave the ball away too easily. I’m a fan of both, and think they must have had an off-day, especially Peanuts who is usually less prone to such errors.
But it was great to see Lady Luck smile on us for once. And great to get a result against a top 4 team.
COYB— here’s hoping for an upswing in our fortunes from now on.
8 Posted 13/12/2009 at 20:20:02
But, of course he was good in Russia....
Good report Ken, and a good match to watch. Heitinga and Neill looked lost in he first half... Luckily they put in a shift in the second.
Fellaini was again the driving force...
9 Posted 13/12/2009 at 21:18:29
10 Posted 13/12/2009 at 21:47:37
On the tube an bluenose from Kent was confident as he’d played FIFA 10 in the morning and we’d won 4-3 (almost genius)
Nobody seems to be mentioning the first 15 minutes when we were awesome, well on top and playing fluent football with Jo, contrary to reports, having a blinder and Saha ripping Terry to bits (mentioned several times by by their fans after the game).
What struck me was the sense of belief that seemed to run through the team when they decided to play football, as commented on several times, all too infrequent and patchy over the last few seasons. Albeit inconsistently, there were a few periods when we dominated a powerful Chelsea side (with Anelka untouchable and brilliant).
Regarding the ’outmuscled Piennar and Billy etc, this was yet again evidence of contrary refereeing, as when they were touched and went down under challenge they consistently got free kicks and yet when our players went down same, nuthin. Deserved the luck, deserved the point, chuffed not to have watched it on telly and tormented by biased commentary.
My son's 11th birthday treat and the fourth (unbeaten) game my wife (Welsh and rugby only) has been to in 25 years, so season ticket for her next year no danger. As usual with our team, a performance that instils equally hope and fear. But happy to enjoy it while it lasts.
11 Posted 13/12/2009 at 22:32:12
We must perform in the next 3 prem games. 5 points is minimum acceptable, injuries or no injuries. 6 points okay. 9 points and I’ll come out of my malaise and return to my cheerful positive self.
12 Posted 14/12/2009 at 00:49:10
What your level headed observations give us seem to me to be exactly an idea of where we are. Which, given that you’re not a crazed fantasist or fundamentalist of some kind, gives us a datum line - a base from which we work out progress or hopefully not, regress.
We are on the up. Long term injuries are still that. Heitinga will turn out to be the signing of the year - for any club - and Jo will arise to be the new Jimmy Husband.
For the youngsters amongst us, Jimmy was an interesting part of the Holy Trinity team. What did he do? Hard to tell, but necessary. The oil in the machine. Timmy does that. And Jo can too.
13 Posted 14/12/2009 at 09:47:56
14 Posted 14/12/2009 at 10:02:32
I admire your optimism.
15 Posted 15/12/2009 at 03:29:32
And isn’t it strange, how luck seems to favour the brave. I am glad we got a point out of it, the boys deserve it. If we continue in the same vein for the rest of the season, Europe remains a possibility.
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