Tuesday 20 March 2018

Murray adds late entry to Blues' lowlights reel

Chelsea 0-1 Bournemouth

Dominic Fifield

So much for the recovery. Chelsea's traumatic title defence has endured its latest nadir, the champions beaten at home by Bournemouth to ensure all that optimism generated by a trio of clean sheets has been knocked out of them yet again. Eddie Howe looked as shocked as anyone as his substitute, Glenn Murray, scored the contest's only goal within two minutes of his introduction.

Jose Mourinho, at his side, might have seen this coming. For all that the hosts monopolised the ball, they were horribly profligate. Chances were passed up regularly, their front line too gummy for comfort and, as the game progressed, there was always the threat they might be undone on the break.

Junior Stanislas's corner eight minutes from time was duly palmed down by Thibaut Courtois and hooked back into the centre by Steve Cook for Murray to nod through Gary Cahill on the goalline. By becoming the first promoted team to win here since 2001, Bournemouth leapt out of the relegation places and left Mourinho with a pounding headache for the midweek visit from Porto in the Champions League.

This had been frantic from the outset, the gusty conditions adding to the rather frenetic and shapeless nature of much of the play, though it had quickly become evident Chelsea's recent recovery was to come under serious scrutiny.

Mourinho had retained the same front six which had impressed, even in goalless stalemate, at Tottenham Hotspur the previous Sunday, a selection which had implications again for Diego Costa.

The striker once again opted out of the pre-match warm-up and took a seat just over the manager's left shoulder. He must have anticipated a whirlwind opening from the hosts against the joint worst defence in the division.

Jose Mourinho vents his frustration on the touchline at Stamford Bridge yesterday
Jose Mourinho vents his frustration on the touchline at Stamford Bridge yesterday
Bournemouth's Glenn Murray celebrates with teammates and the fans
Bournemouth striker Glenn Murray (R) scores past Chelsea's Gary Cahill

As it was, the main plaudits from the opening exchanges were awarded for the exploits of a team-mate restored at the other end of the pitch.

Thibaut Courtois had not featured for 90 days, since Belgium played Cyprus in a Euro 2016 qualifying game in September, with his campaign interrupted by a knee injury sustained in training which had required surgery in Barcelona.

Mourinho had claimed his team were welcoming back "the best goalkeeper in the world" on the eve of this game, with the 23-year-old duly justifying that lofty assessment. There was no rustiness to his handling, his reactions sharp as he blocked Junior Stanislas's shot early on, a chance gifted to the visitors by Pedro's careless lay-off on the edge of the Bournemouth penalty area which had presented Joshua King with a chance to gallop virtually the length of the pitch in possession.

The striker forced Courtois into another excellent save with a shot spat towards the near-post from Dan Gosling's delivery. Bournemouth, encouraged by successive draws which have served to stem a troubling flurry of defeats, were eager and industrious.

When Chelsea did belatedly stir, Artur Boruc - hampered of late by a groin complaint - denied Eden Hazard from distance, the Belgian supplied by Pedro's glorious pass to the flank, and Oscar from closer range.

Mourinho had become fidgety and frustrated long before the half-time whistle. His team were lapsing into over-elaboration at times, particularly with their attempts to weave through the clutter in the opposition penalty area.

Even then one wondered whether this was an occasion better suited to Costa's brawn and brute force, though the forward's most demanding moment of the half was an attempt to fit his green bib over a bulky training coat. The summons did come at the interval, at Oscar's expense, with his presence at the heart of the hosts' front-line at least disconcerting Bournemouth's centre-halves.

That offered Hazard, now flitting in-field from the left, and Willian a hint of space to exploit. It was the Brazilian's fizzed cross, flicked on by Steve Cook at the near-post, which struck the masked Nemanja Matic under the crossbar with the Serb unable to adjust his body to guide the ball under the bar and into a gaping net.

Yet the urgency was all Chelsea's, with Gosling hacking Costa's flicked header from Willian's delivery from the goal-line, and the home players appealing in unison for handball against a grounded Simon Francis after the Spain forward's cut-back struck his opponent's arm.

Costa, predictably enough, was incensed and booked soon after for thrusting Matt Ritchie to the turf, but the collective exasperation was mounting. Twice Branislav Ivanovic found himself free down the right only to over-hit his first centre and see his second marginally missed by Pedro in the middle and by Costa at the far post.

Then came Murray's intervention and a new low point in Chelsea's campaign of crisis.


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