Fluffed penalty spoils Hiddink's day
Chelsea 2-2 Watford
Published 27/12/2015 | 02:30
They have stopped mourning for the departure of Jose Mourinho quite so vociferously at Stamford Bridge but a mediocre performance suggests the grieving for their broken season may go on for some time yet.
Guus Hiddink was back at the controls but this is a very different Chelsea to the one he steered to a third-place finish and an FA Cup triumph in 2009. Back then, the Dutch coach could call upon the experience of players like Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, while now his fallen champions, suffering from a shortfall of confidence, still look capable of fouling up just about any game.
It might all have been different if, with ten minutes left and the score at 2-2, Oscar had managed to do better with a penalty that he sent in the direction of the upper tier as opposed to the kind of trajectory that might have troubled Heurelho Gomes. The penalty was a surreal end to another day on which Stamford Bridge watched the champions of 2015 confront some familiar demons.
Hiddink joked later that, given the weather, Oscar, who slipped as he struck the ball, "shouldn't have put slicks on" instead of the proverbial "normal tyres". The men in the Yokohama Rubber executive box, who paid a mere £200m for the privilege of advertising on the Chelsea shirt, may or may not see that comment as an added bonus. Oscar will be glad he has such a sympathetic hearing.
There were two goals for Diego Costa, and no booing of him from the home fans this time, although the striker was booked for a fifth time late in the game and will now miss tomorrow's game against Manchester United. As for Cesc Fabregas, he was replaced at half-time by John Obi Mikel and the home side were the better for it. Eden Hazard came on as a late substitute to win the penalty that was so carelessly wasted.
The general rage about Mourinho's departure seems to have abated at Stamford Bridge - there was hardly a song about him - but there is still bemusement at the state of their team. In his first caretaker spell, Hiddink lost just one game in 22, but this time he had reason to be grateful that the club did not taste defeat in his first match.
The draw was fair on both sides, with Quique Sanchez Flores' team on top for most of the first half when they equalised through Troy Deeney's penalty and then scored after the break with a deflected goal from the prolific Odion Ighalo. Hiddink was generous in his praise of the Premier League's seventh-placed team, who have now taken 13 points from the last five.
At half-time Hiddink said that he had to sacrifice one of his "creative" players to bring on Mikel and try to deal with the efforts of Deeney and Ighalo as they hunted for possession. In midfield, Etienne Capoue, Jose Jurado and Ben Watson looked comfortable and while substitute Valon Behrami's ridiculous foul on Hazard might have undermined a very solid away performance, generally Watford approached the game with a positive outlook.
After a good spell at the start of the game Hiddink's players had too much time without the ball. Then John Terry headed Willian's corner downwards, it flicked off Gary Cahill's back and Costa spun quickly to volley the loose ball past Heurelho Gomes.
Before the game, Hiddink made just one change, Cahill for Kurt Zouma, from the side that beat Sunderland.
Watford's equaliser was a confidently taken penalty from Deeney four minutes before half-time after a very avoidable handball from Nemanja Matic when a corner was floated over from the right side. His misjudgement was so blatant that referee Andre Marriner barely had a protest to deal with.
Watford struck first after half-time, a heavily deflected shot from Ighalo off Cahill's heel that sent Thibaut Courtois in precisely the wrong direction.
It looked bleak for Chelsea at that point and their revival showed that character does lurk within this team. It was Willian's perfectly angled ball from the right that found a corridor through Watford's defence and Costa took one touch to take it wide of Gomes and struck it with his right foot the other side of the goalkeeper.
The less said, from Chelsea's point of view, about Oscar's ensuing penalty, well over the bar, the better.
A foul on Craig Cathcart saw Costa booked by Marriner, one more self-destructive act in a very destructive season. Mikel had the last shot of the game but if that gone in, it truly would have been a miraculous Christmas for Chelsea's new manager.