It had to be Frank Lampard, his 200th goal for Chelsea coming against his boyhood club. There were fairytale displays too by Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, two players operating on a level way beyond the capabilities of West Ham, who are once more looking over their shoulder at the gathering storm just six points below.
Lampard deserved better than the boneheaded response of the West Ham fans and the lack of resistance from the players in claret and blue, which rendered proper measurement of Chelsea’s performance impossible. They work harder at Cobham.
Perhaps West ham set down their weapons in salute to a player who left Upton Park for £11m 12 years ago. At least the result lifts Chelsea into third place above a faltering Tottenham, which is significant given Manchester City’s reluctance to nail down second.
The West Ham goal was a coconut shy for most of this contest. Chelsea might have reached double figures. Demba Ba should have had a hat-trick by half time. Jussi Jaaskelainen saved twice, once with a foot when Ba was clean through. The first chance Ba steered hopelessly wide. Matches can be too easy.
The lack of intensity did Chelsea more harm than good. West Ham held out for 18 minutes, thereafter the abacus was out in anticipation of a sack load. It was entirely the Hazard and Mata show, the pair linking luxuriously down the right. Hazard thought he had inked the score sheet first with a piledriver that was beaten away by Jaaskelainen. The ball was quickly worked back to Hazard, who picked out Lampard to head home.
Time, we know, is rushing by for Lampard. Even so it seems madness of Chelsea not to tie him down to at least one more year given the speculation linking him to David Beckham’s former club LA Galaxy.
While Hazard and Mata flicked and feinted about Stamford Bridge, and Ramires chugged up and down, Lampard laced the play with his unerring passes and some cute interceptions. And for all their invention, Hazard and Mata don’t always know when to pull the trigger. That is not a failing that can be attributed to Lampard, a midfielder with a striker’s awareness of goal. The default long ball to Andy Carroll seems to be West Ham’s only ploy but brings neither the best from West Ham nor the player. They do not have the resources to trouble Chelsea, but West Ham do have an identity to defend and promote, which condemns this template out of hand.
Carroll had the ball in the net two minutes after Lampard. It was chalked off for raised hands, which David Luiz made the most of in the Chelsea box. There was a header late on that Carroll might have done better with and another from substitute Carlton Cole. Mo Diamé had a shot blocked by Ramires and that was more or less that.
“I’m disappointed for Andy because he played well but doesn’t have a goal to show for it. He’s a handful. I’m just disappointed he didn’t score at the end of it,” manager Sam Allardyce said. “If he keeps shooting and getting in the right positions, the goals will come.
“But I want them to come against West Brom, next time we play. We’re running out of games for Andy to start scoring. Let’s hope he gets a few between now and the end of the season.”
Of the Luiz incident Allardyce added: “Technically, it was a foul. But I could show you about four outside the box he didn’t give today. I thought it was a brilliant dive from David Luiz, which bought him the foul. Mo Diamé had a really good chance, Carroll had another chance, and there were two headers from the far post. I’d have expected him to score at least one.
“Carlton Cole might have sneaked one as well. If we’d scored that, it might have been interesting. But to ask a newly promoted team tobeat a top four team twice is a pretty big ask.
It would have been utterly undeserved, too. Chelsea continued to create chance after chance before Hazard added a second five minutes after the break. It was another wondrous exchange with Mata that sent him through for a stiff finish with his left foot. “It was a tough afternoon,” admitted Allardyce. “Mata and Hazard were both outstanding. I’d like to have seen us defending better, but sometimes you have to admire the talent.
“Sometimes you can’t defend the quality they’ve got. This year, away from home, scoring has been a massive problem for us. Not so much creating the chances, but scoring them. Today, apart from the one we had disallowed, we had enough opportunities and should have scored at least one.”
Defeat cuts the comfort zone protecting West Ham from the bottom three to six points. Allardyce says concern is natural but hopefully it will turn out to be a wasted emotion. He has set his team a target of six points from the remaining nine games, not straight forward given the last nine matches have yielded only seven.
“I’m always worried until we’re mathematically safe. You never stop worrying. You’re always looking at what could happen. But my belief in our home record is that it’ll be good enough for us to get safe. It’s about us getting to 39 points. That’s our concern. Get 39 points and you’re all right. It doesn’t matter what the others do.”