Glensider Away At Chelsea
Attendance: 41 686
Did we fully deserve that point. No, that's not a question. Far from it. That's a statement of fact. Heroes one and all wearing the claret and blue, and a result that means we have taken four points off of the London Blues this season. Indeed, who is to say, that but for the events of the third minute of injury time added on at the end of a pulsating first half, that the 'real Blues' would not now be suffering from a Boxing Day hangover of massive proportions. At 2-0, with us in control, a first premiership home defeat after 71 games unbeaten looked very much on the cards for Chelsea. Was it a penalty? I don’t know. It looked extremely harsh from my vantage point, but the fact is that it was given, Zat Knight was dismissed, and suddenly Chelsea had a rather undeserved lifeline back into the game.
The game had started so promisingly too, with MON's marauders taking the game to the home side, before deservedly taking the lead in the fifteenth minute, when a cross from the lively Gabriel Agbonlahor found Big John Carew in the box, and he nodded the ball back across goal for Shaun Maloney to volley home.
Chelsea were finding it extremely difficult to stamp any authority on the game, and their cause certainly wasn't helped when Frank Lampard had to retire early after receiving what looked like a thigh injury. We really looked in control, and things suddenly got much worse for the home team when Petr Cech gifted Shaun Maloney his second goal of the game. Maloney had a shot from 20/25 yards out, Cech looked to have it well covered, but allowed the ball to bounce off his arm and roll into the net. 2-0 and any Christmas hangovers were well and truly forgotten as we celebrated in style, confident that we'd be returning to the dressing room at the break sitting pretty on a 2-0 lead.
Sadly the first half drama hadn't ended, and with Knight adjudged to have bundled Ballack over as he shaped to push the ball past Carson, the much-maligned Andriy Shevchenko scored from the spot as Knight was sent-off. 1-2, and game very definitely on. Time to settle the nerves, and enjoy a turkey sandwich or two, as MON re-shaped the team during the half time recess.
Not surprisingly Curtis Davies appeared after the interval to bolster the defence left by Zat's harsh dismissal, with the unfortunate two goal hero Shaun Maloney sacrificed for the cause. We expected a Chelsea onslaught as the game re-started, and that is exactly what we got. On the fiftieth minute they were level, with that man from the Ukraine sending a stunning effort past Scott Carson from twenty-five yards, and many of us started checking our watches and questioning whether or not we were capable of holding on for another forty minutes or so, allowing us to return back to Brum with a very creditable point.
We weren't. The momentum was very definitely with the home team now, and it came as very little surprise when they took the lead for the first time, Alex finishing off with quality after receiving the ball from Shevchenko. 3-2 down, the Chelsea comeback complete, and our second away defeat of the season looking very much a reality. Looked now as if damage limitation was to be very much the order of the day.
Wait a minute though. This is Aston Villa 2007 version, and MON's lads don’t roll over and waive the white flag just because the odds looked stacked against them.
Ashley Young flighted in a delightful free kick on seventy-two, the Chelsea rearguard were static, and in ghosted Martin Laursen to tie the game up at 3-3.
Ricardo Carvalho saw red for a horrendous challenge on Gabby, and so we were back on a level playing field again, with ten against ten.
With minutes remaining though, Chelsea were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box, and Ballack stepped up to beat the wall and send his stunning free kick into the corner of Scott Carson's goal. Football can be tough at times, in that you don’t always reap what you sow, and definitely this was one of those occasions. We had deserved at least a share of the spoils, but now it looked as if we were to be denied anything for our efforts, and for our contribution to a memorable game.
A few Villans were heading for the exits though when Ashley Cole handled on the line, was dismissed for his troubles, and after what seemed like an eternity, Gareth stepped up to bury his spot-kick past Cech to earn us the point that we so richly deserved. Great stuff, entertainment of the highest order.
There's a lot of talk doing the rounds regarding the introduction of a winter break, but this was surely the type of game that suggests that the tradition of Boxing Day football has to continue. O.K., it was a unsocial kick-off time for those of us journeying down from Brum, but at the end of the day, few of us, if any, will ever regret the decision we made to make the trip.
And so to Wigan.