Thursday 22 March 2018

Blues' title challenge dented by Cech error

Wigan 1 Chelsea 1

Steve Tongue

PETR CECH held his hand up metaphorically about the late equalising goal that cost Chelsea two invaluable points at the DW Stadium on Saturday.

Had he done so in a more literal sense and held on to Hugo Rodallega's toe-poke instead of prodding it into the path of Jordi Gomez, his team would have enjoyed their long journey home on the back of a fourth successive win.

Instead, they can hardly afford to drop further points in Thursday's derby at Tottenham.

Andre Villas-Boas was less prepared to accept any blame for ordering the shutters to be pulled down after Daniel Sturridge's outstanding goal instead of continuing to attack.

With Jose Bosingwa a liability at right-back and Branislav Ivanovic unpredictable in the centre, it was risky to rely on keeping out a Wigan side who improved as the game wore on and took advantage of their opponents' timidity by throwing on two strikers as substitutes and reaping the reward.

Like his mentor and fellow countryman Jose Mourinho, the Portugese sometimes gives the impression of thinking too much and refusing to let well alone.

He has never yet named an unchanged Chelsea team and in every game this season has used all three substitutions.

On Saturday Oriol Romeu, who had done nothing wrong, was taken off as early as the half-time interval in a tactical switch designed to introduce more creativity.

Then, almost as soon as Sturridge scored, a creative player (Juan Mata) was sacrificed for a defensive one (Jon Obi Mikel). And towards the end, just as Fernando Torres must have been thinking it was time to bring off the ineffective Didier Drogba, Sturridge himself, Chelsea's best player, was replaced by Florent Malouda.

"It was a fair result to the game because we didn't push really hard to get the result," Villas-Boas said.

"Wigan had a lot of momentum, so if we went in search of the second goal we could have found ourselves exposed.


"That's why I think that, even though we scored early in the second half, the best for us was to try and get through the game with a 1-0 and keep our defensive shape. We conceded within three minutes of the final whistle but normally we would have seen the game through."

In terms of the title challenge, the Chelsea manager pointed out that last season's champions, Manchester United, did not win an away game until February, neglecting to mention that by that time they were four points clear at the top by virtue of an impeccable home record.

Chelsea have already been beaten twice at home and four times in all, and these were points they could not afford to lose.

Cech's explanation of the equalising goal was: "When the shot came through, there were some players coming across the flight of the ball and one of the other players -- I think it is was Ashley (Cole) -- the ball just went through him somehow.

"Then there was a split second where I could not see the ball. I tried to catch it but it was too late and it was just deflected. I should have done better but in a way when you do not see the ball it is hard."

That enabled Wigan to begin a daunting run of games with a deserved point. Liverpool (on Wednesday), Manchester United and Manchester City all await before mid-January, as well as a visit to Stoke, where victory on the final day of last season maintained their Premier League status against the odds.

Preserving it this time, after losing eight games in a row recently, would be an even more remarkable achievement, but Roberto Martinez has kept players and supporters believing. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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