Chelsea 2 Spurs 1 – Saturday 26 November 2016
Always a stand out fixture, and following last season’s title ending shenanigans, it seemed we were playing for more than just the 3 points on offer today, our visitors hoping to end their miserable record at fortress Stamford Bridge.
With the lights dimmed and a laser show build up the teams emerged into the gladiatorial arena, both sets of fans desperate to see the opposition vanquished. This clash rarely disappoints; a win for us and we go back to the top of the league. A win for Spurs….well, they can dream!
Nice to see the team picking itself right now; Courtois in goal, with Azpilicueta, Luiz and captain Cahill in that highly effective back 3. Alongside Moses and Alonso in their flying wing back positions, were Kante and Matic shoring up the midfield. Up top were Pedro and Hazard supporting the not-so-fiery-lately-one Diego Costa. On the bench were Begovic, Ivanovic, Fabregas, Chalobah, Willian, Oscar and Batshuayi.
It’s fair to say that our visitors came out of the blocks a lot faster, probably feeling they had a lot more to prove, and running around like a team possessed. For the first few minutes we were keeping them at bay. But it looked a bit ominous on 5 minutes when their Arsenal youth product Harry Kane put a close range ball lofted over from a free kick into the back of the net only for it to be rightly called offside. Sighs of relief all round.
We were soaking up all the early pressure up, a bit too much really, but with just 10 minutes played our excellent clean sheet record had gone when dirty Dembele was allowed too much space to wriggle his way through our defence before laying the ball off for Eriksen to strike an unstoppable shot from the edge of the box and past the outstretched Courtois. That wasn’t in the script!
It was early enough in the game for us to come back, but we still seemed to be sitting back, content to soak up more pressure, not enough quick ball going forward for my liking. Spurs were having the majority of the possession but in the main were forced into wildly off target shots on goal.
We were making hard work of it and recalling our nightmare defeat at Arsenal, Courtois seemed insistent on playing a short ball out leaving our defenders under pressure. So it was a comical moment when the home supporters were screaming at him to just kick it long. Which he duly did!
Frustratingly, Spurs were getting far too much of the ball and they were quick to hustle us when we had possession. The general feeling in my part of the ground was they would eventually run out of steam. But for the moment it was the boys in blue who were off the pace, anyone would have thought it was us who had been unceremoniously dumped out the Champions League just a few days earlier.
Approaching half time and as we were getting used to the idea that perhaps just being the one goal behind wasn’t too bad considering, up popped the ever smiling Pedro to bang a spectacular equaliser into the back of the net. With Matic finding Pedro in space on the edge of the box, our fleet footed Spaniard did a quick pivot and while their defenders were still trying to decide what to do, he let rip the ball into the far top corner, past the outstretched Lloris in goal and right in front of the cocky Spurs fans. Delicious, and cue frantic celebrations in a beeline towards the dugouts as Conte enthusiastically joined it. HT 1-1.
Whatever happened in that dressing room at half time, presumably a rocket up the collective backsides, our boys certainly responded at the restart, picking up from where they left off at the end of the first half. No changes of personnel but there was a change in their fight and determination. It wasn’t pretty play by any stretch of the imagination but we did fight to get possession of the ball and, five minutes in, our doggedness was rewarded with a second goal.
Costa picked up possession and streaked down the left towards goal closely marked by a number of white shirts, and from the bye line he managed to thread a superb diagonal ball through the defenders, across the face of the goal and ahead of the fast approaching Moses who was in acres of space on the right, and with only the keeper to beat his shot on goal rebounded off Lloris, off the late arriving Vertonghen and straight into the goal, pinball-like. It was on target and going in anyway, so goal rightly given to our resurgent Nigerian.
A fantastic piece of work from the boys in blue, and it could so easily have been three if Alonso had converted his easy shot on goal following great build up work from Moses and Costa again, but instead he managed to blast the ball into orbit over the top of the Matthew Harding stand and it was last seen heading in the direction of Putney Bridge!
We didn’t score, but it gave us the drive to push on and take control of the game, one which could have so easily gone the other way.
And now the previously stunned home crowd did have something to make a noise about, the less vociferous stands getting involved with the singing, finally. We were all behind our boys and our manager, whose half time team roasting had clearly worked wonders. Antonio…..Antonio!
On 63 minutes it was good to see fans, including many from the away end, take part in a minute’s applause for Matthew Harding season ticket holder Robert Huxley who sadly lost his life as a victim of the recent Croydon tram tragedy. RIP Bob.
With 15 minutes left to play Hazard, who it’s fair to say didn’t have one of his more effective games, was replaced by Willian to the inevitable welcome tune of his own legendary song echoing around the ground. He hates Tottenham…….
A pretty even game now, settled down after our own flurry of threats on goal, and with still just the one goal in it we were in for a nail biting finish.
Our second substitution saw Ivanovic brought on to shore up the defence, replacing Moses who left the pitch to a standing ovation. My man of the match; even when things weren’t going so well for us during the early parts of the game, he was patrolling up and down that right hand side looking to find a way to move the ball swiftly up the pitch and into the box. Our final change saw Pedro replaced by Oscar, as we entered the last few minutes of the game.
They were an uncomfortable final few minutes; just the one goal still in it and the next goal could have been anyone’s. Like the rest of the Chelsea faithful, I was hoping and praying that the final whistle would blow sooner rather than later, that we would hold on to the lead – we weren’t going to be beaten but the win would be so much more sweeter.
We were soaking up the pressure but with the clock winding down towards the 90 minutes and beyond, we allowed ourselves a taste of the victory to come every time we had hold of the ball, and especially when Willian nearly put the game to bed, another foray down the left hand side that found our hirsute Brazilian lurking unmarked in front of goal. Sadly his shot went the same way as Alonso’s earlier effort.
Into stoppage time and the lily livered whites looked to me like they had nothing left to give, they looked as if they had run out of steam following their first half efforts, as predicted earlier by my West Stand colleagues. Their heads had dropped at the realisation that once again they had failed to get one over us at fortress Stamford Bridge. Harry Kane may be lauded as one of their own (if you count other parts of north London I guess!) but he didn’t seem to offer much for them during the game, and was invisible for much of it.
To our relief, the final whistle blew, all 3 points in the bag, and back to the top of the pile, although not too important at this stage of the season. Conte did his customary exuberant hugs all round as we all celebrated the hard fought win, and as we left the ground Antonio Conte’s name could be heard being chanted long into the night. Antonio……Antonio……..
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