Writer: Mike Field
Date:Saturday February 21 2009
21/2/09 - 12.45pm
We showed four changes from the team that drew 1-1 with CSKA Moscow on Wednesday evening. Centre-forward Emile Heskey and winger James Milner both started after shaking off achilles and thigh problems respectively. Brad Friedel returned in goal ahead of Brad Guzan, while Carlos Cuellar was preferred in defence to Craig Gardner.
Our Lot: Friedel, Cuellar, Davies, Knight, Luke Young, Milner, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Heskey, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Guzan, Sidwell, Carew, Delfouneso, Salifou, Shorey, Gardner.
Roman's Rabble: Cech, Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, Ferreira, Mikel, Ballack, Lampard, Kalou, Anelka, Drogba.
Subs: Hilario, Ivanovic, Quaresma, Deco, Belletti, Mancienne, Stoch.
Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)
Not only were three very important points at stake, but we also had the opportunity to equal a club record of 14 league games unbeaten.
Attacking the Holte End on a beautiful, bright, late February afternoon, we made a bright start, and when the ball broke to Heskey, after hesitant keeping by Cech, Emile fired over the bar from twelve yards out.
A superb dipping thirty yarder from Frank Lampard had our hearts in our mouths. Maybe five yards further out and the effort would have ended up in the back of our net. Close one.
Emile needed a bit of treatment after an aerial challenge with Jon Obi Mikel, but after treatment from physio Alan Smith, he was alright to resume.
Chelsea were playing some neat, effective keep-ball around the centre-circle, and with Kalou pushing up to support Drogba and Anelka at every opportunity, it was obvious that the three would be a handful all afternoon.
Zat Knight upended Anelka in a dangerous position and the Chelsea pair of Lampard and Michael Ballack lined up a shot at goal. Fortunately the wall did its job, and the ball was cleared.
With fifteen minutes gone, Chelsea had clearly had the bulk of the possession, and it was no real surprise when just a few minutes later the visitors went ahead, Anelka slotting past Brad Friedel after a superb pass from Lampard. First real chance of the game, Chelsea one up in the nineteenth minute.
We tried to respond immediately, and were able to force a corner, but unfortunately it came to nothing.
On twenty-five minutes a chance fell to Stan Petrov, but he disappointingly put his effort well wide.
John Terry almost notched a second for Chelsea with a thunderous header from a corner, it needed a superb stop from Brad to keep the ball out. Then it was Kalou's turn to fire over the bar from another flag-kick.
We had a golden chance to level things up, Heskey winning a free kick on the edge of the Chelsea box.
Ashley sent the dead ball crashing against Cech's bar, only for Emile to head the rebound wide. We should have been level. Great free kick from Ashley, bad miss by Emile.
We were pushing forward more now, and Ash swung a decent cross in, which unfortunately evaded both Gabby and Emile.
We then won another free-kick in a good position out on the left, after Alex had fouled Gabby. Ashley delivered another inviting cross, but Curtis Davies, sliding in, just failed to make contact.
We were certainly finishing the half strongly, giving us encouragement that while still only the one goal behind, an inspirational MON half-time team talk might just help the lads to scale the heights throughout the second forty-five.
Overall though, I think its fair to say that Chelsea had just about shaded the first half, looking the quality outfit that they quite obviously are.
We clearly needed to get Ashley on the ball more during the second period. Every time he had been in possession, he had looked likely to create something. We've also been giving the ball away way too cheaply. So frustrating. You cant afford to do that at the best of times, least of all when you're up against the likes of Chelsea.
Chelsea got the second half underway, looking as if they really meant business, and we were immediately on the back foot.
The visitors won a couple of early corners, and from the second one, Terry sent in a looping header which was cleared off the line by Petrov.
Carlos Cuellar picked up a yellow after a clumsy challenge on Anelka from behind, and then Gabby could, and probably should have, brought us level. He broke into the area area down the left, leaving Alex for dead, but his right-foot effort to the near post was parried away by Cech. A good save by the keeper, who I had felt had looked far from confident first half, particularly when dealing with high balls and set pieces.
All too often though our crossing this half just hadn't been up to standard, often swinging the ball in way too close to Cech. We needed to get into Chelsea more, instead of standing off them and allowing them to play the ball around.
Emile had started to cause Chelsea all sorts of problems, and we certainly weren't out of this one just yet.
On seventy minutes Cech saved his team again with a fine stop from a Gareth Barry effort from the edge of the area. The ball rebounded out to James Milner, but his cross was cleared.
John Carew came on for Curtis Davies with James Milner dropping back. Mart was certainly going all out to salvage the draw.
A long cross from the left by Ashley Young was way too deep, and Cech was able to catch the ball at his back post, and then Cap'n Gareth hit a well-struck 25 yarder which unfortnately went straight down Cechs throat.
Brad Friedel had been pretty much a spectator for most of the half, but with only ten minutes remaining, it started to look as if we were heading for our first defeat since November the 9th.
John Carew glanced a header wide from a corner, but the break just wouldn't come. Close, but not close enough.
Martin was getting increasingly frustrated on the touchline at Chelsea's time wasting tactics, yet surprisingly referee Halsey seemed content to let them get on with it. Cech and Bosingwa had been the biggest culprits.
Ballack went into the book following a clumsy challenge on Ashley Young, and Bosingwa was finally yellow carded for his time wasting tactics, but Chelsea now were more than happy just to keep possession.
A yellow card for Terry following a cynical challenge on Gabby, but from the resultant free kick, Zat Knight just failed to get a touch.
We'd lost our cutting edge, looking far more dangerous in the early part of the half.
Four minutes of injury time were signalled by Halsey, but it looked as if we needed something special to save this one. Sadly it was not to be.
We played well, could have nicked the draw, certainly had our chances, but now we have to pick ourselves up again, and put together another unbeaten run, starting against Stoke City next Sunday.
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Date:Saturday February 21 2009
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|18. Aston Villa||8||1||1||6||-5||4|
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