CHERRIES LEFT FEELING BLUE AFTER PRE-CHRISTMAS CRACKER
Cup quarter-finals don’t come around too often for AFCB, but this one had remained largely below the radar during our recent travails in the Premier League. However it suddenly moved into sharp focus on a still, mild evening under the bright lights of Stamford Bridge.
Pre match Eddie said he wasn`t in a position to make as many as 8 changes to his starting line-up, and he was true to his word, making just the 7. In goal as expected was Boruc, and in came the young defender Jack Simpson, to play alongside a returning S Cook in a 3 man back line with Francis. Arter, Smith and Gosling returned to join Surman and Fraser in a 5 man midfield, with Mousset taking the No 10 role behind Defoe as a lone striker. So 3-5-2 going forwards, reverting to a 5-3-1-1 in defence mode.
The game started a little scrappily, with some decent passing movements interspersed with some terrible ones, the most memorable being Cook’s firmly struck pass to the Delta logo on the pitchside advertising board. Maybe he mistook Simpson for a ballboy. However just as we started to find our feet, Chelsea opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a high class move which sliced open the centre of our defence, presenting Willian with a simple tap in from 6 yards.
Matters rapidly worsened with Defoe limping off shortly afterwards, having failed to run off an injury from an earlier challenge from Chelsea’s impressive young centre-back Ampadu, which (we later learned) damaged his ankle ligaments. Defoe was replaced by Ibe, leaving Mousset effectively on his own up front.
Heads could have dropped at this point but instead the team rallied well, in what became a see-saw first half. We gradually grew into the game, putting together some nice movements but without any tangible end product. The best chances fell to Gosling, who sliced high and wide into the Matthew Harding Stand, and to Ibe who fired over. Likewise Chelsea did not create any clear cut chances, so we went in at half time still 1-0 down but still very much in the game.
We’ll never know what was said over the half-time oranges, but I would like to imagine Eddie delivering a Churchillian call for action and, more importantly, finally getting out his key to unlock the shackles that have seemingly held us back this season.
Whatever was said or done, it certainly worked, the team delivering 45 minutes of stirring football that will long be remembered by those who witnessed it. Tackles went flying in, every second ball was won, passes fizzed across the lush green surface and the movement was excellent. Suddenly we had our team back, and the travelling support responded in kind, roaring the boys on as they swarmed forward with every opportunity. Chelsea could barely get the ball out of their own half, causing Conte to call on his heavy artillery – Hazard and Morata being introduced to try to kill the game off.
Eddie made 2 changes of his own, bringing on Lewis Cook for the injured Arter (hamstring), and Wilson replacing the tiring Mousset to provide a more traditional striker. Seeing Arter depart the scene was particularly upsetting as he had produced one his best performances in recent weeks (months?), constantly harrying the startled Chelsea midfield, and one hopes his injury is not too bad.
Despite all our possession and dominance, clear chances were still few and far between, the best ones falling to Ibe who fizzed a shot narrowly past the left hand post, and S Cook who blazed over after a cavalry charge up the middle. The clock continued to tick down but the team just kept at it, and finally got their deserved reward in the 90th minute. A long throw from S Cook into a crowded penalty area finally fell to Ibe on the 18 yard line. With a cool head he rolled the ball to his left where Gosling was waiting to curl a sweet shot beyond the despairing Caballero into the right corner of the net.
Cue delirious scenes in the red half of the Shed End, reminiscent of that famous night just over 2 years ago when Glenn Murray nodded in to the same net. The travelling support started to relax with the prospect of 30 minutes extra time, so possibly did the players. But the Chelsea big guns were in no mood for working overtime, presumably needing to rush home to wrap their wives’ Ferraris, and within 10 seconds of the restart had restored their lead. A hopeful punt upfield by (I think) Zappacosta was either brilliantly dummied or completely missed by Fabregas. Either way it deceived S Cook, allowing the ball to run on to Hazard who promptly backheeled it into the path of Morata, who poked the ball home under the onrushing Boruc.
To say it felt like the balloon had burst would be an understatement, fans slumped in dismay at the realisation that the prospect of extra time had been cruelly snatched away. To their credit though, the team still kept going, launching a furious late assault on the Chelsea goal, culminating in the Big Pole duly arriving for a corner. All was ultimately in vain though, and the final whistle heralded the end of what had been a thrilling and highly entertaining, full blooded cup tie.
The team will be bitterly disappointed by the final result, and the manner in which it came about, but there were many positives to take from the game. Eddie, dare I say it, will probably be secretly relived that we avoided a 2 legged semi final in January when our injury list is already starting to worryingly mount. Despite the result, the match will live long in the memories of those who were there, for all the right reasons.
Boruc – 6 – had no chance with either goal
Simpson – 8 – barely put a foot wrong all evening
S Cook – 5 – erratic passing still a worry. We need last season’s version back.
Francis – 7 – shaky start but grew into the game
Smith – 7 – full of energy and aggression
Fraser – 8 – monumental performance, little legs never stopped running, even won a header
Surman – 7 – took time to get into the game, pulled the strings in the 2nd half
Gosling – 7 – a man of 2 halves – 1st dire, 2nd inspirational, beautiful finish under pressure
Arter – 7 – see Smith above
Mousset – 6 – as usual lots of energy but little tangible result. He’ll get there
Defoe – n/a – not on long enough
Ibe – 7 -one of his better performances, looked good in the No 10 role 2nd half
L Cook – 6 – full of running but little impact this time
Wilson – 6 – little impact
Not an easy one this time but I’m going to give it to Simpson for a mature performance which belied his age. Hopefully we will see more of him, and not just when we have injuries or are playing Wigan in the Cup.
Report by rednblackexile
Cherries left feeling blue after pre-Xmas cracker
CHERRIES LEFT FEELING BLUE AFTER PRE-CHRISTMAS CRACKER