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FA Premiership
Saturday, 1st December 2007

Chelsea 1
West Ham United 0

by Gordon Thrower


Last week I opened my report with the comment that bald referees are rubbish. This bold and innovative scientific theory was at first mocked by many – “what about all those idiots with full heads of hair” they say. I admit that research is not yet complete into this aspect of the game but given all the dodgy decisions that regularly go Arsenal’s way at home can the fact that Stroud Green Road has so many wig shops be coincidence?

Howard Webb is bald. In the past he has showed signs that maybe, just maybe there’s the sign of some common sense or intelligence in there. However, as the barnet has disappeared so has any desire to run games like this properly. In fact, he is the ideal referee for the venue.

Stamford Bridge is soulless. Gent summed it up nicely in one word. Sterile. You could probably perform an operation in the place. Everything that is good about football has been removed for fear of causing contamination. Supporters who have a clue about the game? Not welcome. Honest players who can go for more than a few seconds without diving? Not welcome.

You want an example? Well Upton Girlie, for reasons far too complicated to explain, was given a freebie into Abrahamovic’s corporate box for this one. Before the match she received various pieces of correspondence with a list of do’s and dont’s. On the “don’t” list was an instruction that young Tomas was on no account to wear club colours on the grounds that an 8 year-old doing so “might cause distress to the players and management”. There you go lads – no need to shout at the opposition now. Just wear your colours and they will be “distressed.”

Team news was that Noble was given a week off, presumably to give his groin a bit more of a rest following his recent op, leaving us with a line up of Green, Neill, McCartney, Upson, Gabbidon, Parker, Mullins, Solano, Boa-Morte, Etherington, Cole.

Back in the seventies (an old geezer writes) before clubs became a way for Russians to launder roubles into hard currency, there used to be a fund-raising scheme called “Golden Goals”. It probably still exists at some clubs. You’d buy a ticket which would have a time printed on it and if that time matched the time of the first goal of the match you’d win a cash prize. Chelsea may want to consider a refinement of the scheme introduce the “Golden Dive” based on the time that the first of their players collapses theatrically to the floor.

If a ref awarded the free-kick the prize would be doubled with the jackpot going for a dive in the box culminating in a successfully converted penalty. If you had 1 minute and 24 seconds at this match you would have been on a winner as that was all the time it took for Drogba to go down under no challenge whatsoever. Webb gave it of course. Lampard started as he meant to go on by hitting a terrible free-kick into the wall.

It was a scrappy start, not helped by the home side’s tedious habit of feigning injury every time anyone came near them. With Neill in possession, Drogba sat down in the middle of the park clutching his ankle until the ball was put out for him to receive attention. Unfortunately, Neill was naďve enough to fall for it and put the ball out only to see Drogba miraculously rise from the dead without intervention from the physio. Lampard hoofed the ball back 15 yards wide of goal. He will probably claim he was returning the ball but, looking at the way he played the rest of the match, I wouldn’t rule out a shot.

The match went on in similar vein throughout. Webb somehow managed to contrive a yellow card for an innocuous challenge by Solano - a light brush with Kalou that somehow left the cheat rolling around in feigned agony for an “injury” that again needed no treatment. The PFA always make great noises about how much they disapprove of players cheating to get fellow pros booked – though hypocritically they always fall some way short of taking disciplinary action against their members for doing so. Gordon Taylor’s ridiculous salary could be funded for years out of a single afternoon at Chelsea if they introduced fines.

Chances were at a premium at either end. Drogba somehow stayed on his feet long enough to curl a shot wide. Solano had our best effort with a lob that drew a save out of the back-pedalling Cudicini. Webb gave a goal kick, presumably on the grounds that the gravity-defying change in direction the ball made from going downwards into the goal, to upwards over the bar, was caused by pixies or elves, or global warming or just about anything other than the ‘keeper’s gloved hand that the rest of the ground saw.

Webb came into his own on 37 minutes. Mikel went scything through Parker that was reckless and represented nothing more than an attempt to seriously injure a player. There was no attempt to get the ball and it fulfilled every single criteria for the issuing of a red card for serious foul play – doubly so in the context of Solano’s yellow. Webb, surrounded by the massed ranks of Chelsea players as usual, bottled it and, in one of the worst homer performances from a ref ever seen outside Anfield or Old Trafford, issued only a yellow.

Mikel was later seen waving an imaginary yellow after a nothing challenge by Cole – there’s a statutory punishment for that too but Webb had already thrown the law book out of the window. To compound things Mikel then got Boa-Morte booked with another dive – about the 15th of the half by my reckoning. I considered one possible reason for all the diving. Someone had a laser pen and the light beam was strong enough to…. No. They were simply diving.

Somewhere in all this Terry somehow escaped censure for trying to stick one on Boa-Morte for having the temerity to try for a loose ball spilled by Cudicini. The fact that this ignorant moron is considered to be England captain material tells you just about everything you need to know about the dire straits that the national side is in at present.

I spent half-time without the traditional Kit-Kat, the confectionery having been carted up to the corporate boxes in Upton Girlie’s bag whilst I slummed it over in the Shed. Chelsea have made one improvement to their half-time, er, entertainment. They seem to have abandoned the habit of reeling out a former player and introducing them to the crowd. The embarrassment that usually followed as the crowd, some of whom go back almost as far as 2003, failed to recognise the likes of Pat Nevin was hilarious. These days they just sit in silence during the “interval” as they probably call it. Much as they do for the 90 minutes.

Chelsea had a lot more possession in the second half, though the fact that Green barely had a save to make spoke volumes. Beletti picked up a caution for chopping down Etherington with a foul so obvious that even Terry couldn’t be bothered to complain about. Sidwell departed on 65 minutes – it says something when you watch a match for over an hour and don’t notice someone as ginger as he is. Wright-Phillips replaced. Lampard had been equally as anonymous as Sidwell but let everyone know he was still there by picking up a card for a foul on Boa-Morte. If you ignore misplaced passes and shots into row Z this was possibly his only contribution to the game.

Cole then got into a promising position but might have been better served by playing in Etherington and going for the return instead of shooting wide from a tight angle.

Terry then tried to disprove the theory that all the diving in the premiership is down to those Johnny Foreigner types by flinging himself to the floor in the box in a move that was always going to be unconvincing, even allowing for Webb’s doe-eyed love-in with the home side and Steve Gerrard’s crown as the best home-grown diver remained untouched.

With 73 gone Ljungberg replaced Solano and on 75 minutes Chelsea took the lead. Drogba nodded on to Cole who took the ball past Green and slotted home. It was a good finish. It was also offside, a fact that was ignored in the linesman’s attempts to prove that he too would go out of his way not to cause distress to the players and management of Chelsea. If that meant turning a blind eye to infringements of the laws then it was only what Webb had been doing all afternoon all day anyway. The Chelsea fans actually cheered for a minute or so, having carefully placed their Starbucks on the floor to applaud. The offside law is of course as much of a mystery to the home support as it seemed to be to the lino but then when you’ve been going to the Bridge for only four years I suppose you’re unlikely to have seen any linesmen actually give one against you.

The goal was followed by two further substitutions. Ashton replaced Etherington and Spector came on for Parker. The home support soon settled down to their magazines and lattes or whatever it was they had been doing to keep them so quiet all day and the game petered out without much in the way of chances, though a late foray into the box did see Cole penalised for some strange figment of Webb’s imagination, having had Terry virtually throttle him.

On the final whistle Lampard went round kissing his badge in some strange delusion that he had somehow contributed to his side’s victory. He hadn’t. His performance had been every bit as poor as his recent run out for England. Still he got the man of the match for that one. It just goes to show the lyrics of the song are wrong. Ten men can carry Lampard – and do so every week. If there was any real passion about this airless sanitised sorry excuse for a football club their fans will remember all the badge-kissing when the talentless one ups sticks for pastures new at the end of the season, but they won’t.

Over the 90 minutes we were worth a point. No question. The defence looked strong with the central defensive pairing of Upson and Gabbidon in particular looking good. This time last year we were lucky to see a central defensive pairing last ten minutes and it is no coincidence that the defence’s improvement has come with the arrival of a settled back four. A little bit more flair and pace further up the pitch with the return of Bellamy will, I’m sure, make a lot of difference to the side.

Chelsea? Very ordinary. Bringing on a defensive midfielder on 88 minutes to protect the lead and spending the last five minutes trying to play the ball into the corner flag tells you loads about the ambition of a team who must have fancied its chances against a team so ravaged by injuries. Still that won’t bother their “supporters”.

I understand Chelsea have put together a DVD to prove that they are getting treated differently by referees. I’d like to think that when they turn up for their latest hearing into their continued failure to control their players the FA will simply play a DVD of this match back at them before deducting a few points for their bare-faced cheek to try and defend the indefensible. They won’t of course but it’d be nice to think someone in football authority could do a decent job.

Meanwhile we would all like to extend our best wishes to all those Chelsea supporters, players and management who are even now overloading the hotlines to those ambulance-chasing law firms that love to advertise on daytime telly. Tomas sneaked in with his West Ham shirt on under his sweater. The distress must be terrible for you all. I’d take the week off to get over it if I were you.



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Not really tested by the multi-zillion quid opposition. No chance with the goal. Which was offside.


Lucas Neill
Good in parts – simply got on with it when copping an elbow from Kalou, an incident which led to him changing shirt to become “Lucas Neill - the man with no name”.


George McCartney
Another good run out though he was a bit more tested when Wright-Philips arrived on the scene.


Danny Gabbidon
Outstanding. The partnership with Upson is coming along nicely and he seems to have put the nightmare of last season, when he never got into his stride following an injury lay-off, well behind him.


Matthew Upson
Also outstanding. Kept Drogba pretty quiet and I think he just shaded Gabbidon for MOTM for me but it was a damned close thing.


Hayden Mullins
Another good one. Like Gabbidon, this was the sort of thing we were seeing him do two seasons ago.


Scott Parker
Solid in the tackle, he put in an excellently gritty performance.


Nobby Solano
Another “good in parts” performance – his booking was a complete joke though.


Matthew Etherington
Saw a fair bit of the ball but failed to capitalise on his possession.


Luis Boa Morte
A lot of hard work, closing down and chasing. Another ludicrous yellow from Webb.


Carlton Cole
Caused problems all the way through for the Chelsea defence who resorted to the bear-hug tactic to keep him quiet. The shirt is his to lose at the moment.


Substitutes


Freddie Ljungberg
(replaced Solano, 74) Disappointing. Brought little to the game in the 20 or so minutes he was on.


Jonathan Spector
(replaced Parker, 78) I vaguely remember one interception but hardly registered.


Dean Ashton
(replaced Etherington, 79) Bustled a bit but probably needed more time to make a real impression.


Richard Wright
Did not play.


James Collins
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: H.Webb.

Attendance: 41,830.

Man of the Match: Matthew Upson.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Danny Gabbidon, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Scott Parker, Nobby Solano, Matthew Etherington, Luis Boa Morte, Carlton Cole.

Goals: None.

Booked: Matthew Etherington 25 Nobby Solano 34 Luis Boa Morte 45      .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Chelsea

Cudicini, Belletti, Alex, Terry, Bridge, Sidwell, Mikel, Lampard, J.Cole, Kalou, Drogba.

Substitutes: Wright-Phillips (Sidwell 66), Makelele (Cole 89).

Subs not used: Hilario, Ben-Haim, Shevchenko.

Goals: Cole (76).

Booked: Mikel (37), Kalou (41), Belletti (54), Lampard (70), Terry (85).

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Matthew Upson


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