Saturday 24 February 2018

Scale of cheer confirms the significance of Blues' victory

Chelsea's Gary Cahill celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates. Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic
Chelsea's Gary Cahill celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates. Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic

Tim Rich

You could tell how important this victory was by the sheer scale of Chelsea's celebrations after their 2-1 win at Stoke.

When, three minutes from the end of what would have been a perfectly creditable draw, Gary Cahill scored the winner, Antonio Conte leapt on to the top of the dugout, while his captain almost leapt into the crowd.

"It is like a blur," said Cahill afterwards. "I just went absolutely berserk."

There were various reasons why the England centre-half became swallowed up by emotion but not least was the fact that he had given away the penalty that allowed Stoke to level the game at 1-1 - a scoreline that appeared to be sticking right to the end.

Instead, he scored the kind of precious, unexpected goal that John Terry used to grab, the kind that wins titles.

"Playing in my position, to have a penalty go against you, you can almost see the headlines: 'Cahill should have done this, Cahill's dropped this and done whatever', he said.

"People are quick to criticise. When things are going well and we're winning games and picking up clean sheet after clean sheet, it's kind of looked upon as the norm. But the second you make a mistake, it's highlighted tenfold.

Celebrations

"You saw the celebrations. Everyone knows what winning that game meant to us. A neutral might have been thinking that this game has got a draw written all over it, but we kept going."

Even had Chelsea not won, they would still be iron-hard favourites to win their sixth championship. Leads rarely change hands at this stage of a Premier League season.

The club leading with 10 games to go has won the title in 10 of the last 13 campaigns. Of the three sides that failed to hang on to their advantage, two - Arsenal in 2008 and Manchester United in 2012 - led by only a single point. Chelsea were four points clear of Liverpool in 2014 and neither team won the title.

No team has ever been as far ahead as the Blues and not rammed the advantage home. The talk in the aftermath of another victory was not of whether they will win the title but when.

Cahill's late winner would have been familiar to Mark Hughes. It was the kind of goal Manchester United were famed for scoring while winning championships.

"I have played in teams that have won the Premier League and you just keep going to the end and never give up," said the Stoke manager.

"It is not about formations and systems, it is more about how the players execute what they are asked to do. You can see they are well drilled. They are a good side with good players working hard and making things happen and that's why they are top." (© Independent News Service.)

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