Pompey Lose But We Scored
Saturday 21-10-06, 3pm
Pompey travelled to Stamford Bridge today as we looked for not only our first Premiership point or goal at the Bridge but our first point or goal against Chelsea full stop.
With Glen Johnson ineligible under the terms of his loan agreement from Chelsea Noe Pamarot came in. Injury ruled out Captain Dejan Stefanovic so Gary O'Neil took over the armband with Matty Taylor filling in at left-back and Niko Kranjcar coming into the team on the left of midfield.
In a difficult afternoon in which David James had an unbelievable match making save after save we finally succumbed to second half goals from Andrei Shevchenko and Michael Ballack. Benjani pulled one back to break our goalscoring duck, if only he could have taken his earlier chance...
Pompey got this top of the table clash underway making a positive attacking start gaining an early corner. I thought "could this be a sign of things to come?" On reflection sadly it wasn't.
Kanu had the first effort, his header from Gary O'Neil's cross failed to trouble stand in goalkeeper Henrique Hilario, although it wasn't far away and had it been on target I'm not sure Hilario would have got there?
The first shot came from the boot of Matty Taylor but his effort went wildly into the stand. This effort seemed to wake Chelsea and shortly after the first of so many Arjen Robben runs down the left saw his cross volleyed over from the edge of the area by Didier Drogba.
From a Taylor cross a clearance found its way to Benjani who sold a clever dummy to Ricardo Carvalho to take him and other defenders out of the game to leave him with a chance. Sadly he couldn't find the composure needed. With chances likely to be few and far between this was the type of chance we really needed to take.
As the half went on Chelsea came right into as they began to take control. Robben found himself clean through with only David James to beat but the Pompey goalkeeper stood tall and turned away the Dutchman's effort.
Andrei Shevchenko was then to be denied by another good save by James, parrying away the header. Then with Chelsea in control it looked as though Pompey had fallen behind. John Terry's header found the back of the net but due to Drogba's foul on James it was to be ruled out.
With Chelsea now rampant Frank Lampard's pass found Shevchenko who powered his way through a couple of challenges before a curling effort from 20-yards that seemed destined for the top corner only to be fantastically tipped away by James.
Next to be denied by the inspired James was Drogba again. After again finding himself clear and away once again James stood tall saving the shot to his near post with his feet, denying Robben yet again minutes later with another good save.
We were in trouble being carved open time and time again down Chelsea's left, our right and we were again fortunate not to have fallen behind as half time approached. James' throw out put Linvoy Primus in trouble, he was robbed by Lampard who played in Shevchenko who was luckily standing in an offside position. The flag went up early as the Ukrainian rolled the ball home for another disallowed goal.
Harry Redknapp made a somewhat questionable half time change, withdrawing Kanu with Sean Davis coming on. I'm not sure if Kanu had a knock but even so surely Andrew Cole should have come on in the Nigerians place?
James again had to make the opening save of the half. Drogba's cross found Shevchenko whose diving header was well saved by James. The flag was raised for offside so it wouldn't have counted in any case.
Yet again we got opened up down our right, Chelsea's left. Robben played in Ashley Cole on the overlap with his cross picking out the head of Lampard whose header narrowly went wide of James' goal.
It seemed like only and a matter of time, we couldn't keep soaking up the pressure we were being put under. So as seemed inevitable ten minutes into the second half, again coming down Chelsea's left we were made to pay. Lampard slipped in Robben who pulled back for the arriving Shevchenko who rolled home beating James' dive with the aid of a deflection off Sol Campbell. Without the deflection I'm certain James would have saved the effort.
Two minutes later Robben's cross was only headed into the air by Taylor and with both him and Campbell drawn to the ball Drogba only had to head back across goal to the waiting Michael Ballack who headed home to double Chelsea's lead.
Redknapp responded with an immediate change bringing on Andrew Cole, the man I think maybe should have come on at half time with the very quiet Manuel Fernandes coming off.
Minutes later our backline was breached once again. Lampard's shot was only parried by James into the path of Drogba to follow up. As he ran off to celebrate he was greeted only by the assistant's flag for Chelsea to have their third goal ruled out, and second for offside.
Hilario was forced into his first and only save of the game doing well to keep out O'Neil's near post header from a Niko Kranjcar corner. The switch of personnel and formation changed Pompey's fortunes; it was just a shame that we had to be 2-0 down for this to happen.
This lead was halved though with a little over twenty minutes of the second half to play. Campbell's header was scrambled away, Cole followed up to see his effort blocked then rather than taking on a shot himself Taylor cleverly squared the ball for the waiting Benjani who coolly finished, did we have a chance of coming back from two down?
Another wonderful James save kept Pompey in with this chance of maybe claiming something from the game. Shevchenko's cross found Ballack who was again a Chelsea player thwarted by James.
Either side of Pompey's final change, David Thompson coming on for Pedro Mendes James was again forced into saves, denying firstly Joe Cole, fairly comfortably from and then Lampard both from 25-yards.
To cap a wonderful display James finished as he had started with another fine save. His flying save denying Drogba and from the resulting corner John Terry's header was blocked off the line by Taylor's chest before he thumped the ball away to safety.
Pompey's final chance fell to goal predator Andrew Cole but his half chance from Kranjcar's cross could only be stabbed wide with the forward under pressure with two minutes to play. There was still time enough for a marauding Campbell run down the wing though, ended by a foul on him. From the free kick with players up from the back Thompson wasted the opportunity with a poor delivery which went out for a goal kick.
So a 2-1 defeat to the defending Champions, by no means a poor result I would have just liked to have seen us be a little more adventurous.
Our defence has improved a hundred times on that of last season but we were always going to be hard pushed to keep a team with Chelsea's quality out for 90 minutes. I think that the half time change of Davis on for Kanu changed the match. It signalled our almost clear intention of being happy to sit on a 0-0 draw. Many teams have tried this and despite us being much better than we have been in years gone by with a far better defence previous years have shown us it just can't be done.
I think bringing Cole on for Kanu (if the move was being made as a result of an injury would have been a better move) if Davis for Kanu was made purely for tactically reasons I have to question this one. It's hard to criticise Harry Redknapp and the boys after our great start to the season and even though this was always going to be one of our toughest, if not the toughest game all season I just wish we'd approached it slightly differently.
At least we've broken that duck and scored a Premiership goal against Chelsea, hopefully we can repeat the dose at Fratton Park in he reverse fixture in a match that we will surely approach with a far more positive frame of mind.
Chelsea - Andrei Shevchenko 55, Michael Ballack 57
Pompey - Benjani 68
Gary O'Neil (c)
Pedro Mendes (David Thompson 83)
Manuel Fernandes (Andrew Cole 58)
Kanu (Sean Davis 45)
Substitutes Not Used
James almost singled handed defied Chelsea's all stars making save after save, several from the very top drawer. I'm certain that James would have saved Shevchenko's goal had it not taken the slight deflection it did. Jose Mourinho dishes out praise to the level he did James only when it is truly deserved and James deserves every word he got from the special one and those that will surely follow from each and every reporter over the next few days.
If this performance hasn't done enough to turn Steve McLaren`s head then I don't know what can. McLaren will have to be living in his own world if James isn't at least recalled to the squad for England's next friendly. Personally I found it hard to believe he (or at least one of his men, maybe they were?) wasn't at this game watching, choosing instead to watch the Villa - Fulham game later in the afternoon, with Ray Clemence watching the Charlton - Watford game.
Come on McLaren be the bigger man and prove you can admit you are wrong and recall, and even call up for the first time those you should!