Chelsea (4-2-3-1):- Cudicini; Ferreira (sub Shevchenko, 90), Carvalho, Terry (Capt.), A. Cole; Essien, Makelele; J. Cole (sub Ballack, 82), Lampard, Kalou (sub Alex, 70); Drogba
Subs not used: - Hilario; Wright-Phillips
Booked: - J. Cole, A. Cole
It’s not easy at The Lane!
It’s not easy at The Lane, any more! I said there would be a lot of crowing at The Lane tonight, and just as the Chelsea fans were doing most of the shouting and specifically telling us “It’s so easy at The Lane”, up popped Dimitar Berbatov to head home a 61st minute corner to make it 3-2 and to put Spurs right back into the reckoning. By this time Tom Huddlestone had replaced the ineffective Jermaine Jenas at half-time, and skipper Ledley King was soon to make way for a third striker (Darren Bent). Whilst Bent did not have too much effect, apart from releasing both Berbatov and Keane to more creative positions, from this point on Spurs dominated most of the game, ultimately equalising through a quite spectacular Keane goal, and so nearly taking all three points through an added time effort by Berbatov.
There is so much to remember about this game, which bearing in mind the quality of the opposition must go down as the most memorable league game of Spurs’ season. Many have described it as THE game of the Premier League season. Apart from the goals (Spurs are only the third team to score 4 in a league game against Chelsea in the last 5 seasons), there was Ashley Cole’s diabolical tackle upon Alan Hutton, for which he was so lucky only to see yellow, and then lucky not to see red for the dissent he added to the original offence by refusing to face referee Mike Riley. The quality of the goals was also outstanding, and then there was the agenda!
The agenda being the fact that Chelsea so wanted revenge for their Carling Cup defeat, and of course they were chasing Manchester United and Arsenal for the Premier League title. Avram Grant arguably fielded the side he should have started with at Wembley, with the exception of the injured Petr Cech. Juande Ramos did field the same starting line-up as that at Wembley. As at Wembley, Ramos got his substitutions right, but this time, Grant probably got it wrong, when he replaced a striker (Kalou) with Alex, although it probably should be read as a mark of respect for Spurs efforts. Ultimately, Spurs gave their fans a night to remember for a long time, and also knocked a big dent in Chelsea’s title hopes. We also shut up their fans!
The free kick that Mike Riley awarded Chelsea after only two minutes looked more than generous, and although it was initially cleared the ball went as far as Terry, who chipped a cross to the back post, where Drogba stole in and headed home. Joe Cole soon had the ball in the back in the net too, but the offside flag had already been raised. Berbatov was fouled about 30 yards out on Spurs right flank, and Jenas’s free kick did test Cudicini, who saved at his left corner. Mr. Riley was being lenient in these early stages, and had “words” only when Claude Makelele up-ended Aaron Lennon. Spurs got an oh so sweet equaliser through Wembley hero Jonathan Woodgate, when he rose cleanly to meet Jenas’s free kick to head home with no rebound needed this time!
Chelsea were always dangerous of course, with Makelele having the job of anchoring the midfield, and Essien getting forward to great effect. Drogba and Kalou were taking it in turns to operate on the left side too. One break ended in a Cole shot passing across the six yard area, and then Cole made a typical run through the middle, prodding the ball forward, where Essien scored with an exquisite chip shot. The Spurs Jumbotron was not functioning properly, and even the announcer was confused as to who scored, as he awarded this goal to Drogba. Joe Cole was booked for dissent soon afterwards, when he argued too vehemently over the assistant referee’s failure to award a foul by Chimbonda.
Mike Riley appeared to have missed another foul, this time on Jenas as Chelsea attacked with the blessing of the officials. There was drama just before half-time, when Ashley Cole scythed down Alan Hutton with a tackle higher than that by Martin Taylor upon Eduardo. Hutton did get up un-injured eventually, and Riley was surrounded by Chelsea players (including the England Captain) who obviously succeeded in persuading the weak-willed referee not to send off their man. Cole eventually did turn round (albeit briefly) to face the music and the yellow card, and has since apologised publicly for his challenge and his behaviour. I wonder what his former manager would have to say if such a challenge was made upon one of his men this coming week-end on Sky’s “Grand Slam Sunday”.
Huddlestone’s introduction gave the Spurs midfield another dimension. Hudd’s passing was generally of the highest order, and he was so much more impactive than Jenas had been in the first half. However, Spurs first went 3-1 down, as Joe Cole received Drogba’s chipped ball, and got the better of Chimbonda. Cole’s shot hit Robinson’s leg, but was only deflected high into the net. No matter, Ramos’s instruction was clearly “Attack, attack, attack!”, and Lennon started to make more and more headway, left right and middle. Lennon sparked a good move on the hour and also provided the cross from which Malbranque’s shot was saved for a corner. From the corner, Berbatov rose and hit a looping header into the top of the net in front of the Paxton Road stand. Berbatov waved the Spurs possee back to the middle to resume the fight-back. However, Joe Cole was fouled and Robinson had to get down and make a good save from Drogba’s direct free kick from 25 yards.
Spurs demonstrated superb skills after a Robinson clearance, when Huddlestone passed to Berbatov, who typically controlled the ball with skill then quickly released it to Keane who did well to hold possession before seeing his shot saved by the busy Chelsea keeper. Essien hit the post with Robinson beaten by his right to left shot, and then Lennon created another great chance for Malbranque whose shot was miles wide, when he should at least have hit the target. Huddlestone was booked for simulation, when he dived on the edge of the box. I thought that Mr. Riley had awarded a free kick and not a penalty, but it was a free kick to Chelsea. Soon after that, Huddlestone was definitely the hero, as Keane’s corner passed across the area. Chimbonda did everything he could to avoid handling (perhaps not entirely successfully), but Hudd hit a well-placed shot from the right side of the box to the far corner of the net to make it 3-3.
Spurs joy was brief. Berbatov had just done some great defensive work in his own half, and was called upon to repeat the task, but this time failed. The ball was sent in the direction of Joe Cole, and once again he had the better of Chimbonda, this time firing directly into the roof of the net in front of his ecstatic fans.
Robbie Keane’s equaliser for 4-4 was nothing short of spectacular. A long ball bounced off the back of Carvalho, and Keane was the first to react, collecting the ball on the angle off area on the left side. Robbie curled a beauty of a shot around Cudicini into the top corner. He raced back towards the centre, but then realised he ought to share his celebration with the fans, returning to dive Klinsmann style. Berbatov could so easily have scored in added time to make it an unbelievably 5-4. Lennon had made another penetrating run, and the ball reached the area just outside the Chelsea box in a central position. Huddlestone was in the zone, but it was Malbranque’s pass that pierced the defence, collected by Berbatov who made one adjustment before shooting. Somehow Cudicini just managed to get a hand to the rising shot, and conceded a corner.
The draw was probably the fairest result. Spurs fans were buzzing all the way home, and look forward to another goal feast against Portsmouth on Saturday.