He was the last player off the pitch, staying behind to soak up the adulation of the away supporters in the Doug Ellis Stand and, frankly, who could blame him? With his two goals yesterday Frank Lampard did not just secure another Champions’ League campaign for Chelsea, but wrote his name in the Stamford Bridge history books as the club’s top scorer.
Lampard had begun the day a goal shy of Bobby Tambling’s record but ended it with goals 202 and 203 of a brilliant 12-year Chelsea career. They were goals that summed up his continued importance to the club that has still not offered him a new contract as he cancelled out Christian Benteke’s first-half strike on the hour, and then appeared in the six-yard box at the perfect time to bury Eden Hazard’s low cross late on.
Chelsea fans spilled on to the touchline as Lampard was lost in a celebratory huddle of players and supporters, and the London club had the three points that effectively guaranteed a top-four finish.
Lampard said it was an “amazing day” and dedicated his record strike to his late mother. “I did get a bit emotional there. I always dedicate my goals to my mum, I lost her a couple of years ago.” As for his unresolved future, he added: “I’m hoping that I’ll be here and at the end of the season we’ll get a decision on that.”
There was so much else to commend a pulsating contest rich in drama and controversy. There were red cards for Ramires and Benteke, a Demba Ba ‘phantom goal’ and injuries to John Terry and Hazard that make them unlikely to appear in Wednesday’s Europa League final against Benfica.
Terry’s injury to his left ankle followed an awkward fall. He had lengthy treatment before leaving on a stretcher amid a chorus of abuse from the Villa fans. “We are waiting for a scan,” said Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez of Terry, who looks certain to miss a second successive European final. Hazard pulled up with a hamstring problem in added time and is “extremely doubtful” for Wednesday according to Benitez.
Villa took the lead with Benteke’s 19th League goal of the season. After collecting a pass from Yacouba Sylla, he strode down the inside-left channel, taking the ball past Gary Cahill rather too easily and then beating the wrong-footed Petr Cech with a cool near-post finish. The noise levels rose higher in the 19th minute with a period of applause from both sets of fans for Stiliyan Petrov, Villa’s club captain who announced his retirement this week as he continues his fight against leukaemia.
Although Brad Guzan then saved at Ba’s feet and turned a Lampard free-kick on to a post, Villa were more than holding their own, with Fabian Delph a dynamic presence in midfield and Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann troubling Chelsea’s defence with their pace.
Paul Lambert, the home manager, felt referee Lee Mason should have sent off Terry for bringing down Sylla 30 yards from goal – “Sylla was through” – but Mason did dismiss another Chelsea man before the break, when Ramires, already cautioned for a foul on Benteke, caught Agbonlahor with a high foot.
Yet Villa’s advantage was short-lived as, 13 minutes after the restart, Benteke raised his boot as he jumped with Terry, catching the Chelsea captain in the chest. Lambert insisted there was “no malice” yet it was a foolish challenge given he had been lucky to escape with a yellow for a first-half elbow in the face of Cesar Azpilicueta. Moreover, it means he will miss Villa’s last game at Wigan next Sunday, a match they will need something from if Wigan upset Arsenal at the Emirates on Tuesday.
Within three minutes Chelsea were level as Lampard picked up Hazard’s square pass and curled a superb shot into the far corner. Chelsea should have had a second when Ashley Westwood blocked a Cahill shot on the line and Ba appeared to touch the loose ball over the line before Sylla cleared. Instead it was left to Lampard to secure Chelsea’s victory. Benitez was lavish in his praise of the 34-year-old. “He’s a great professional, very intelligent in his understanding of the game,” he said. “I think he can play for a very good team for a while (longer), how long you never know. It’s not my decision.”
The Spaniard had his own cause for satisfaction, having achieved the Champions’ League qualification he was tasked with securing when handed the Chelsea job. But it was Lampard feeling the love.
Tambling's record tumbles
Frank Lampard (203 goals): Position: Midfield Years it took: 12 (2001-2013)
Appearances: 606 Goals per game: 0.33 League goals for the club: 165
Bobby Tambling (202 goals): Position: Striker Years it took: 11 (1959-1970)
Appearances: 370 Goals per game: 0.55 League goals for the club: 164
Aston Villa (4-5-1): Guzan; Lichaj, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett; Agbonlahor, Sylla, Westwood, Delph, Weimann; Benteke.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry (Ivanovic, 75), Cole; Ramires, Lampard; Moses (Luiz, h-t), Mata, Hazard; Ba (Torres, 88).
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Lampard (Chelsea)