Thursday 22 February 2018

Mourinho keeps the home fires burning after huge scare

Chelsea 2 West Brom 2

West Brom's Shane Long scores against Chelsea during their Premier League encounter at Stamford Bridge yesterday
West Brom's Shane Long scores against Chelsea during their Premier League encounter at Stamford Bridge yesterday

Dominic Ficfield

Escapes such as this merely fuel the sense that Jose Mourinho is invincible when it comes to Premier League matches in this arena.

Chelsea seemed beaten here as the fourth and final minute of stoppage-time ticked down, their desperate game-plan apparently spent with Goran Popov in possession deep inside the home half, Petr Cech off his line and home players strewn upfield as if accepting of their fate.

Had the West Bromwich Albion substitute taken the ball into the corner and wasted the last few seconds, rather than attempting an unlikely shot from an unkind angle, then his side might have added a victory at Stamford Bridge to that already achieved at Old Trafford this season.

As it is, that wait for a first win here since 1978 goes on. Chelsea reclaimed the ball, Ramires bustled into the area and tumbled under contact of some kind with Steven Reid. The clock read 93 minutes and 41 seconds when Andre Marriner, after a pause as if for dramatic effect, pointed to the spot.

It was a flashpoint that provoked immediate confusion over whether the official had spotted a foul or a dive, and debate over whether Ramires was en route to the turf prior to impact or sent sprawling by Reid. The managers, predictably, agreed to disagree.

By the time Eden Hazard's penalty billowed the net, extending the Portuguese's unbeaten league run here to 66 matches, the injured West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster had tweeted his own sense of deflation. "Load of shit," he offered. His team-mates made their feelings just as clear out on the pitch.

Chris Brunt and Jonas Olsson took their frustrations out on the officials, barking their disappointment at Marriner, an afternoon of admirable endeavour having been soured at the last. Well drilled and feverishly industrious, Steve Clarke's side had blunted the hosts in the opening period until their concentration wavered on the stroke of half-time.

Once behind they were compelled to be slightly more expansive, only to excel yet more persuasively with their strength in the air and pace on the counter-attack.

Shane Long had already thumped a header on to a post from Morgan Amalfitano's centre when the winger's delivery prompted panic at a corner just after the hour-mark. Gareth McAuley might have scored only for Petr Cech to push the attempt up rather than out. John Terry, Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic were all inside the six-yard box watching the ball loop high into the gloom, but Long reacted smartest, springing up above all three to deposit his own header beyond Cech and in.

Mourinho bemoaned that defensive indecision, the concession too sloppy for comfort, particularly given his side had considered this an opportunity to eat into Arsenal's lead at the top. Yet he was incensed seven minutes later when Stephane Sessegnon's dispossession of Ivanovic just inside the Albion half was deemed legal.

"Even the fourth official said I was right [to complain]," he offered having watched Sessegnon leave the Serb on the floor and break at pace, exchange passes with Liam Ridgewell, and then cut inside Terry to eke out space for a shot.

The attempt was scuffed and might have been stopped with ease, only to scuttle under Cech's loose attempt to save and Chelsea were breached yet again. Had Ivanovic been fouled in the build-up? "No," said Clarke. "They pressured us in midfield through the first half. When we do it very well on a Chelsea player, why is it suddenly a foul?"

Thereafter the home side cast caution aside and, had their opponents been more ruthless, might have been buried on the break.

Those chances Chelsea created themselves were missed, Boaz Myhill springing to turn aside Ivanovic's shot and Willian heading over from point-blank range, before Ramires earned a reprieve and Hazard, his passport and place in the side restored, claimed a point. "We deserved a draw," said Mourinho. "We were the only team who tried to score in that half."

The visitors had been unambitious but comfortable until virtually the half-time whistle, when Gary Cahill's cross-field pass was controlled on the chest by Hazard who cut in from the left flank and ran at Reid. The Belgian skimmed a low shot towards the far corner which Myhill pushed out and Ridgewell should then have cleared. But as he waited for the ball to come across his body, Samuel Eto'o, sneaking up on the blind side, wrapped his foot around the full-back and rammed the loose ball into the net.

Myhill buried his head in the turf in disgust. By the end, that sense of exasperation had been exacerbated.


Sunday Independent

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