In a model of even-handed match reporting, Pete Sixsmith praises what Sunderland did well, puts aside disappointment that we could not quite rise to the occasion and do better and salutes a powerful display by the Champions in general – one José Bosingwa da Silva excluded – and one man, Nicolas Anelka, in particular …
As games go, it was a good one. There was plenty of exciting and attacking football, some poor defending, controversial refereeing decisions and a sublime performance from one player. The pity was that we lost it.
These are the games where we measure our progress. Too many times in the past, we have come up against one of the very good sides at the top of the League and we have been rolled over. So, on that criterion, we have advanced. We were beaten, but Chelsea did not swamp us.
Had it been a boxing match, Harry Carpenter or Eamonn Andrews would have said that we slugged it out toe to toe with the Champ until his (their) superior strength and technique showed in the second half of the fight.
We left ourselves wide open after striking the first blow. Bardsley’s goal was a belter, not just the finish across Cech, but the run and the sidestep, which were reminiscent of Micky Gray or Lennie Ashurst at their best.
He is by far the most improved player in the club and is a great advert for the virtues of the typical English player; what he lacks in technique he makes up for with sheer effort and concentration. Compare him with the wretched Boswinga – all style and no substance!!
We then proceeded to give Chelsea two goals. The first one came when Elmohamady, his mind presumably on events in his homeland, decided to climb all over Ashley Cole. Down he went and in went Lampard’s penalty.
It galvanized the Blues and a terrific pass from Anelka put Kalou in. Indecision between Gordon and Ferdinand meant that Gordon came too far off his line and the ball trickled into the net. Game over we thought.
Not a bit of it. Elmo made up for his attempt to mount Cole with a sparkling run which resulted in him being brought down on the edge of the box. Up stepped Kieran Richardson to send a low free kick past Cech to level. Four goals in half an hour and the prospect of more to come made the half time apple that much sweeter.
Alas, that was it as far as we were concerned. Whatever Ancelotti said, it worked. They were helped by a poor decision from Mark Halsey, who awarded a corner when it looked like a goal kick. He wasn’t sure, looked at his assistant, who was equally unsure and then succumbed to the pressure exerted on him by Terry and gave a corner. I thought that if you had doubts you gave the defending team the benefit of them – which is what would have happened had it had been at the other end.
Having said that, we defended the corner abysmally. Gordon made a fine save, but Terry was unmarked and unhindered as he drove a powerful shot into the roof of the net. Anybody but JT: I can’t stand him. I know he is a good player, but I just find him offensive, with his stupid haircut and his overbearing arrogance. Chelsea fans can castigate me if they wish, but that’s the way I feel.
Once that went in, we were chasing shadows and Nicolas Anelka’s in particular. He was outstanding in his midfield role and never looked hurried or flustered. He laid off balls left and right, came back to win and receive the ball and rounded the evening off with a tap in to give the scoreline a realistic look as they were two goals better than us.
It was an honourable defeat, but a defeat nonetheless. We lacked a holding midfield player; Cattermole or Meyler would have ratted around and not allowed Anelka the room he had and would have challenged Essien, particularly in the second half when he came into the game. Henderson can’t do this and while he tried to win the ball, we may have been better employing Colback in that role from the start. But it’s easy to be wise after the event.
Sessegnon did well enough to show that he could well be a considerable asset, although he must have been amazed at the pace of the game compared with Le Championnat, which is a bit like a Victor Sylvester ballroom dancing lesson – slow, slow, quick, quick, slow – compared with the frenzy of the mosh pit that is the Premier League.
So, a really good game between a developing side (us) and a side coming back to their peak (them). No quibbles with the result, but Chelsea make it hard for others to like or admire them when a clown like Boswinga take two minutes to be substituted. He seemed to want to shake hands with everybody on the pitch as he made his exit – an old Portugese custom or a new Chelsea ploy? You decide.