Grizzly: Chelsea home
Aston Villa v Chelsea
As portents of doom go, including Joe Bennett in your starting line up is right up there. As we look at the team news on Twatter, visions of Eden Hazard sailing past the former Middlesbrough man come easy to mind, in a team that is, with the exception of Bennett's inclusion, unchanged.
Torres will start for the London Blues. Mourinho seems to prefer Torres on expansive, wide pitches like ours, with Ba preferred for the bench. They certainly have the weapons should they need them. Though what does this mean for a Villa side struggling at home with the likes of Sylla and Holt on the bench?
It would be safe to say that the neighsayers are out in force for this one, with every man and his dog pencilling us in for a home drubbing, still, Villa v Chelsea? What's not to be excited about? This fixture has been awash with goals, incidents and cards over the last few seasons and it's Saturday night under the lights. This is what the Premier League was built for.
It's a bit tetchy between me and the Mrs today. Something she said got under my craw, though my general mood today would be probable grounds for divorce, so I'm hoping Joe Bennett does not make things worse in the Grizzly-Button household.
Up on the Holte we are greeted by a vision of dusk. Skies of radiant ochre set over the North Stand as the fiery sun goes down. After a winter of hateful rain it's a blessed sight. A calming breeze accompanied the players as they warmed up on our beautifully crafted pitch. Though was that merely the calm before the storm? As Referee Foy checks his watch I feel that we are about to find out. Game on!
Chelsea are slow starters, struggling to score in the first half of their last three fixtures, yet there is an immediate master class of short passing from Oscar, Willian and the agile Hazard. They move the ball so expertly among them that you'd think there was an extra man. Bakesy goes in for a challenge, upending a man in blue, the ball alluding him. Chris Foy doesn't like it and brandishes a yellow. 4 minutes in and he's already got to be on his best behaviour. That's what they do though - they draw the fouls with this quick, accurate passing, though there is no end product thus far, former gazillions man Torres, not quite reading the play.
Our first real bite of the ball and we're off on a counter. Delph who is eating up the miles already, sends in a super cross but Benteke can only head wide. A shot across the bows there, just to remind pantomime Villain Terry and sidekick Cahill that we are lethal on the break.
Some more pressure play from Chelsea squeezes us in. Shots from Oscar and Willian amount to nothing but it's a warning. If Chelsea had a Diego Costa or a Falcao this would be a different story. As it is, they are struggling to find a real opening. Our off the ball work is now immense and we are giving them less chance to move the ball, with some tight control and defensive marshalling. Vlaar and Baker look immaculate together. I have to say, so far (fingers crossed) Joe Bennett looks to be coping well. Nathan Baker has called him across once to close the gap but other than that he's read the game and the line well, making good decisions. The boy is learning. Soon, he will be as good as his hair.
We counter, ripping the Chelsea lines. El Ahmadi receives the ball through the middle. Bacuna is out right calling for it but the Moroccan international shoots..... well over. A better decision could have been made there.
Both teams are displaying some exceptional off the ball pressure. Mourinho doesn't have people who stand around admiring the play. It's a 100mph off the ball. The same with Villa. There is no place to breath out there. When we get the ball our short passing is accurate. Westy is the pass master again, Delph is marauding around like an Olympic athlete on speed, while El Ahmadi demonstrates the sort of super fitness and running you only find in comics. Breathtaking for those who have the time and understanding to admire such things. Willian in his obvious frustration scythes the latter down. We are all up in arms about it. Agbonlahor goes over to make his feelings known to Referee Foy, who produces a firm yellow card.
We are catching Chelsea off-side easily here. A lot of petty fouls are going both ways. Terry is doing his best to man handle and jump all over Benteke, as if it were his hobby. Referee Foy seems to think that this is Benteke's fault.
A Chelsea break leaves Vlaar and Baker scrambling with space opening up in the eighteen yard box. Torres looks poised but it's Joe Bennett with the clearance. He's read that really well and dug us out of a spot. Well done lad.
We counter again. The ball comes to Benteke who spins low, unleashing a hooked drive .... Oh that was close. Inches wide of the far post.
Chelsea get a corner. Willian crosses the ball in... Terry with the flick on...there's a scramble at the near post. No... it's poked in by the towering Matic. The Chelsea fans go ape as Referee Foy indicates a goal.. Bennett and Baker are pointing to the arm.. wait... the lino has saved us. He's flagging for a handball. Referee Foy strikes off the goal and points for the foul. The Chelsea fans still don't know. We are now jeering and singing toward them with a powerful and deserved rendition of 'sit down shut up.'
Chelsea spark to life. They've struggled to create any real chance so far but now their tails are well and truly up. Willian plays in Oscar but he's offside again. The ball comes back to Chelsea who play in Ramires... the spindly Brazilian looks to be through. Bennett lunges with Vlaar closing in. It's a yellow for Bennett. I think he took one for the team there though Chelsea want red. Mourinho is complaining to fourth official, Moss though Referee Foy is having none of it. About time we got some decisions against Chelsea. We were robbed at the bridge. Ivanovic should have got red and we were denied a clear penalty by a bungling group of officials who were blue and blind. Mourinho is also invited to 'sit down, shut up' by the Holte End. I wish he would.
The free kick comes to nothing, the half ending 0-0. Time for a sip of something and a breather. We can get something here. We are the fitter of the two teams and our counter attacking play is pure venom. The frustration seems to be building for toothless Chelsea though who are struggling to break us down. Bacuna has been special at right back. Oscar could not get passed him. Hazard managed it just the once. Bennett has been very tidy as well. He's bailed us out twice already. I'm mildly impressed. A young player is starting to step up. Nice to see, particularily when he's taken pelters.
The second half starts with Chelsea going at it with fluidity and drive. Their play is lightening quick and we are marooned deep, twenty yards from goal chasing the ball. Not good. This is a real work out but it comes to nothing more than niggling fouls and offside decisions that break up play. Chelsea get a series of corners, the last of which comes to Oscar via Hazard, who shoots but his effort is parried then saved by Guzan. That was a bitty, opportunistic effort at best.
We break with menace. Benteke charges down the middle with the ball. He flashes us some steps overs, foxing Terry & co who are back peddling. The ball spins out to Weimann who pulls it back brilliantly for the Belgian... space and time in the box...... surely.....but inches wide again. Close but no cigar for the Villa colossus.
Mourinho rings the changes. He seems confused, changing his mind at the last. Oscar, not Willian, eventually goes off for Andre Schϋrrle with Demba Ba replacing the forgettable Torres.
Another Villa break. Chelsea are caught pontificating with the ball again. Delph glides through the centre with great loping strides as the Holte get to their feet. Willian is trying to make up the ground. He tugs at the Villa man's shirt and gives him a bump, sending Delph to the turf. Chris Foy reaches for his card as Terry and Ivanovic protest. We are already cheering as the second yellow and red come out. Good night Willian. Referee Foy dismisses him with pomp, sending the Brazilian to the dungeons. 'Cheerio' comes the cry as 38,000 Villa fans wave him goodbye.
The game goes up and down, with more offside flags and a few more petty fouls. Chelsea seem to be struggling with the home crowd. Villa Park is in full voice, the Chelsea players up against it. On 75 minutes Marc Albrighton replaces Gabriel Agbonlahor to a standing ovation. Come on Albie, find us that killer ball! Send those London Blues packing.
More up and down. Vlaar picks up a yellow for a heavy tackle. We need to watch this foul count. Lambert seems to understand the problem, replacing Bennett who is on a yellow, with Clark on 78 minutes. Come on lads! You can pinch this. Chelsea are looking for extra energy and another gear but it doesn't seem to be there.
A free kick to Chelsea from just outside the box. Do I have any nails left? Please no. We don't deserve to lose this......but it's low and wide of the post. What on earth was that? Some training ground nonsense no doubt. Thank God. Down the other end Gary Cahill concedes a corner. Westy floats it in.... Vlaar rises... yes...off the side of his noggin and wide. So close again. Deep breath. Come on you Villa boys!
Ivanovic labours with the ball... Delph nicks it off him; recovers. He races off, slaloms around a jogging Matic with dancing feet, sucks in Cahill.... Albie on the overlap...please Albie.... he cuts it back for Delph.........GOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL. Absolute mayhem on the Holte. We are falling over each other here in utter delirium. Fab has improvised a back step flick past Chech. A razor sharp counter has left Chelsea undone. An electric Villa Park celebrates one of our finest moves this season. On 81 minutes it's Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea.
We are not done yet. We go straight for the throat after the re-start. Christian Benteke finds the ball after another quick break and smashes one but Chech parries the ball upward. Close again from the big man.
Chelsea looked rocked. More fouls come and go as Chelsea try and find something. Ramires picks up a yellow. We are pulling them apart here, using width and pace to break at will now.... and it's Delph again. He's clean through.... yes yes.. Fab.... but the Chelsea defender sweeps in to block the shot. It loops up....and off the bar... my word. Delph is having a barn stormer of a game tonight. Best player on the park by a mile.
We are three minutes into injury time now. We have a late corner. Benteke holds it up but Chelsea break. Ramires takes the ball up the flank. El Ahmadi with the challenge... oh that looks bad from Ramires. He's jumped two footed on to El Ahmadi's leg in what looks like a leg breaker of a challenge. Agbonlahor comes racing out of the dug out to give Ramires a piece of his mind as Weimann demonstrates for Referee Foy exactly what Ramires has done. It's a soap opera down on the touchline; the stricken El Ahmadi nursing his leg. Fourth official Moss, paints it out for Foy who brandishes a straight red for Ramires. The Brazilian should be ashamed. Mourinho is trying to put his point across to the referee.... and he's sent to the stands by Foy who has had quite enough of Chelsea and their antics for one night. Harsh, given that everyone else is on the pitch but I won't be crying any tears.
The game restarts. Chelsea now have 9 men. They have lost their heads, their fans streaming out.... and there's the final whistle. At full time Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea.
We all gather round the TVs in the Holte Suite. There's wide applause for Delph for both the interview and his goal and boos for Ramires. I hope the FA extend his ban, though it shouldn't detract from our performance tonight. We have gone toe-to-toe with title challengers Chelsea and come out on top by virtue of a world class counter move and a stunning finish from man of the moment Delph.
The Mrs and I clink glasses and plan a celebratory Chinese in front of Match of The Day. By the way, we are now 10th on 34 points, have won two at home on the bounce, having lost just one of our last four. Next up, Stoke. We must keep this up now. A fine finish to the season is on the cards.
Room for improvement: No one. A superb team performance.