Sunday 30 April 2017

Drogba's double lifts Chelsea gloom to leave title race on knife-edge

Jason Burt

CHELSEA feel that fortune has deserted them of late, but last night it ridiculed David James instead.

The Portsmouth and England goalkeeper committed the sort of freakish error that will be replayed time and again. James completely missed the ball as he attempted to clear, presenting Chelsea with the crucial opening goal.

Victory meant that Chelsea reduced Manchester United's lead at the top of the table to just one point, but Portsmouth will feel that their visitors should have been reduced to 10 men after Florent Malouda caught Ricardo Rocha with his arm. The Portuguese was one of two Portsmouth players to suffer facial injuries; broken bones to add to broken hearts. Malouda went on to score twice, as did Didier Drogba.

Spare a thought this morning for Bob Jones, though. Before kick-off he was presented to the crowd -- this being his last match after 20 years as head groundsman at Fratton Park before he retired. Now he will wonder if a divot did for James. He had said he could not bear to watch the players cutting up his turf. He surely could not watch last night.

Certainly Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti had looked warily at the pitch beforehand.

The table would suggest that this was the right kind of fixture, although maybe not the right venue, what with Portsmouth's own sense of injustice over this season's travails, for Chelsea to use up their game in hand and try to realign their stumbling season.

They could do so with Petr Cech back in goal, returning from a five-match injury-induced absence as Ancelotti made changes from the dispiriting draw away to Blackburn after which one of his own players, John Obi Mikel, questioned the "fight" they had shown.

Still, the young midfielder survived in a reconfigured formation, with Frank Lampard dropping deeper to accommodate Deco, who combined with Drogba in the opening minutes only for the striker to drag a shot wide. Moments later Drogba slipped, after easily turning Rocha, to spurn another opportunity.

Quickly, James was brought into action, tipping away Lampard's crisp strike from distance and the pattern was set. Portsmouth's game was containment and occasional forays spearheaded by Frederic Piquionne, whose partnership with Aruna Dindane has been ended by the club's inability to pay the £4m transfer fee another appearance this season would have triggered.

Chelsea's easy dominance continued and they soon took the lead. It was a terrible goal for a previously resolute Portsmouth to concede, however, with Hermann Hreidarsson and Rocha getting in each other's way as they attempted to clear Deco's header. The ball still ran through to James, who went to clear it back up-field from just outside his penalty area. But the goalkeeper took an air shot and the ball bobbled past him -- was it the turf, was it his technique? -- for Drogba to run on and tap into the net. It was his 14th goal in his past 14 league matches. None can have been simpler, while James will have to relive his mistake time and again.

To add to Portsmouth's sense that things were conspiring against them, the goal came soon after Yuri Zhirkov had appeared to foul Jamie O'Hara as he was set to run on to Hreidarsson's pass. Portsmouth were rocked and soon afterwards Lampard burst through, only to slice his shot.

Their frustration grew and when Malouda jumped with Rocha he caught the defender with his arm. Hreidarsson howled for a red card and John Terry reacted angrily. Malouda was cautioned but there was concern for Rocha, who appeared to have been left unconscious by the challenge and was eventually carried off and taken to hospital with a suspected fractured cheekbone.

It has been some return to English football for the former Tottenham defender, whose record now reads: six games, sent off twice, carried off once -- and he made his debut in a 5-0 defeat. Welcome back to the Premier League.

The incident meant that referee Lee Mason quickly become the focus of local anger, and at half-time Tommy Smith was led from the pitch, blood streaming from his face and looking concussed after being caught by Daniel Sturridge with a flailing arm. It was later claimed that he had broken his nose.

Portsmouth's anger rose when Malouda, who the home supporters felt should have been dismissed, scored soon after the interval, latching on to Lampard's simple, chipped ball forward to lash his angled shot from the corner of the six-yard area across James, who was easily beaten.

Chelsea were now rampant. James blocked Lampard's powerful shot, only for the rebound to fall to Malouda, who hammered it left-footed into the net.

Mikel's cross-field pass was then chested down by Drogba, who was far too strong for Steve Finnan, shrugging him aside and driving past James.

Richard Hughes should have pulled a goal back for Portsmouth but somehow headed wide. The rout was completed when Lampard nodded home from close range in injury-time, as Portsmouth crumbled. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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