Thursday 18 January 2018

Walters nightmare brings end to Stoke's home record

Jonathan Walters leaves the pitch after scoring two own goals and missing a penalty in the game against Chelsea
Jonathan Walters leaves the pitch after scoring two own goals and missing a penalty in the game against Chelsea

You have to hand it to Stoke: the spectators have an attitude as uncompromising as the players. Midway through the first half here, as the European champions attempted to slow the game down by passing across midfield and patiently waiting for the opportunity to play the killer ball, the home crowd chanted "Boring, boring".

As if stung by the enormity of being so insulted in these parts, Eden Hazard and Demba Ba promptly combined to produce a moment of true quality and a shooting chance for Frank Lampard, who rather fluffed his lines by allowing Asmir Begovic to save with his legs.

Boring or not, Chelsea managed to deprive the Potters of their proud claim to be the last team in all four divisions with an unbeaten home record, proving that while Rafael Benitez's side might have been through a blip with defeats to QPR and Swansea, they can still do it on a freezing cold Saturday in Stoke. Chelsea did not just end the record, they demolished it, and deserved to, though it always comes in handy when the home side chips in with two own goals from the same player, who then goes on to miss a penalty.

"It wasn't our day today, it was Chelsea's," Tony Pulis admitted. That is not to suggest Chelsea had everything their own way. They would have been in trouble after just eight minutes had Kenwyne Jones finished when a rebound from an Andy Wilkinson shot left him with only Petr Cech to beat.

Chelsea also took something of a physical battering, with Hazard in particular on the receiving end of some meaty challenges, and the more he protested to the referee the more the crowd enjoyed it.

After a shaky period in the middle of the first half, Chelsea found their bearings and were beginning to get on top by the interval, though it still took an own goal to break the deadlock, Jon Walters heading past his own goalkeeper from Cesar Azpilicueta's dipping cross. Juan Mata may or may not have scored had Walters left the ball alone, but for the previous few minutes Stoke had been taking no chances, trying and generally succeeding in getting heads or bodies in the way of everything Chelsea could throw at them.

Stoke's luck ran out after the hour, with the match settled by two more Chelsea goals in three minutes. The hapless Walters contributed the first from Mata's corner, getting himself into a tangle facing his own net under pressure from Lampard and ending up getting in the way of the Chelsea captain but not out of the way of the ball. On Chelsea's next visit to the Stoke penalty area Robert Huth went through Mata from behind. Home defenders looked in vain for any help from the referee's assistant, leaving Lampard to score emphatically from the spot.

With the game safe Fernando Torres and then John Terry joined the action. Terry fouled Walters to give away the last-minute penalty that the Stoke player all too predictably blasted too high, prompting the visiting fans to pile on the misery by chanting that Walters scores when he wants. Fittingly, it was Hazard who had provided the true final flourish a few minutes earlier, beating Begovic from 25-yards with a stunning left-foot drive. Not even Stoke could call that boring.


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