Sunday 7 February 2016 – Chelsea 1 Manchester Utd 1
Seems like ages since we last played at the Bridge, and it was a welcome return to the home of football with Man Utd our visitors, usually an intense game between top of the table rivals, although our league positions and current form might be seen as hiccups in this topsy turvy season.
An unchanged side with Courtois in goal and Ivanovic, Zouma, JT and Azpilicueta across the back. With Mikel and Matic taking on defensive midfield duties, Fabregas, Willian and Oscar ahead of them with Costa up top. On the bench Begovic, Cahill, Rahman, Loftus-Cheek, Pedro, Traore and Hazard.
The first home game since news broke of JT’s impending departure at the end of this season, predictably there were plenty of early chants in support of our captain, leader and legend.
An untidy start to the game, the majority of the play in our own half, with a succession of corners threatening an opening goal for the visitors. We were poor in the opening stages, slow to the ball, poor first touch and giving the ball away too easily. We even made that donkey Fellaini look good!
And Martial nearly scored the opener after 15 minutes had it not been for Courtois pulling out a finger tip save. It wasn’t boding well for us, the lack of inspiration on the pitch was translating to lack of noise from the home crowd. On the other hand the away supporters seemed lively enough, clearly not flagging from their distant travels, having converged from various parts of the Home Counties and the south east!
But as we approached the half hour our first corner and controversy as Costa objected to some roughing up shenanigans in the box. All a bit tame but it did trigger some overdue positive play from us. A second corner shortly followed, with Matic having his header easily saved by De Gea. Much better from us as a golden chance came when Costa shot just wide after receiving a beautifully weighted through pass from Oscar. And Oscar was involved again a few minutes later when Willian left the young lad Borthwick-Jackson for dead on the edge of the box, a short pass to Oscar who wasn’t able to connect and just wide again.
A much more evenly contested game now, and as we went into stoppage time at the end of the first half a shot from JT in front of the goal was blocked by the raised elbow of Blind as he attempted to close down our makeshift striker. No penalty given, but it could so easily have been, the shot was on target and arguably a goal scoring chance denied. HT 0-0.
No changes at half time and both teams playing a much more open game, shots on goal and everything, Courtois being the busier of the two keepers. But with the home crowd calling for Eden Eden Eden, it was less than 10 minutes before Oscar was replaced by Hazard, to appreciative applause for both players.
But before he’d had a chance to settle into position a miss kicked high ball from Mikel had Zouma attempting to bring it down when he landed awkwardly, seriously twisting his knee as a result of his high jumping efforts. It looked as bad as his screams suggested and he was eventually carried off on a stretcher to the concerned applause of both sets of fans. He was replaced by Gary Cahill.
And the game took another turn for the worse when on the hour Man Utd took the lead, a cross into the box from Borthwick-Jackson found Lingard who, despite being surround by blue shirts, managed to turn and shoot into the top corner of the goal, Courtois with no chance.
But rather than our heads dropping as seen in earlier games this season, we accepted the much needed kick up the backside and pushed on to at least try and preserve our unbeaten run. A ball dinked to Costa from Fabregas found the fiery one under pressure from Blind on the edge of the box, the man in red managing to push him over for a free kick from Willian, sadly that led to nothing. But we continued to compete for the ball, Willian usually part of the action.
Our third and final change saw Matic replaced by Pedro and we continued playing some well worked football. Moving purposefully up the park a long ball across the box from Fabregas found the head of Azpilicueta, who was unable to control it as the ball ricocheted skywards. But as the ball came down there was Ivanovic waiting to strike a stinging volley from just outside the 6 yard box, forcing a super save from De Gea. We were getting tantalisingly close to equalising!
With a succession of corners of our own we kept up the pressure and De Gea was again called upon to keep them in the lead when Hazard and Fabregas linked up in the box, the magic one having his shot on goal saved from close range. You could feel the equaliser coming….
And strangely enough, when our team got going, so did the home fans, who had been relatively quiet up to that point, finally given something to cheer about. All Chelsea now as we looked to find that goal. And with the whole team now on striker duty we were forcing the Reds into consecutive fouls and free kicks as they couldn’t get the ball out of their half.
Into the last couple of minutes and another Willian free kick, the ball lofted into the mix to find Costa at the far post. only for his header to narrowly sail over the crossbar. But as we went into 6 minutes of time added on and as the away fans were celebrating a rare victory over us, it was Fabregas to Costa once again as he turned, gave keeper and defender the slip before diverting the ball into the back of the net. And did Costa love that goal, really pumped in front of the Matthew Harding faithful.
And as the stadium finally came to life, we kept the pressure up and Costa could have pinched a winner at the death was it not for more goalkeeping heroics from his compatriot. So the game ended 1-1, probably a fair result in the end but I’m still disappointed that we didn’t show some of that late fight and passion earlier in the game, we only seem to get going when we go behind. Good to see JT acknowledge the unswerving support of the fans as he threw his boots into the Matthew Harding crowd.
And, possibly controversially, while I welcome the respect we show to our past players and it’s nice we did it for Juan Mata, he had already received my ripple of appreciative applause as the teams were read out before the game, so I didn’t see the need to go all X-Factor and give him a standing ovation as he was substituted. Sometimes we need to remember who he now plays for and move on. But that’s just my opinion.
So, another point, another draw, another game unbeaten, and still 13th in the table. Isn’t it about time we started to play to win?
Finally, my best wishes for a speedy recovery to Kurt Zouma, he must be more than disappointed to miss the rest of the season and the Euros, this time being held in his home country, as he spends the next 6 months on the sidelines recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Get well soon!
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