Drogba fires to resurrect Chelsea title ambitions
Portsmouth 0 Chelsea 1
Another case of deadly Didier and golden Guus, a double-act that is turning into a beautiful friendship. The moodiest striker at Chelsea has now rescued his new manager twice in the space of a week and last night Drogba kept alive any fading hopes his club might have of the title.
Not only that, but he keeps intact Hiddink's impressive start at Chelsea, a record that is four games, four wins and a revival that has kept the club in touch with Manchester United at the top of the Premier League. In the mud and rain of a Tuesday night at Fratton Park there were times when you had to wonder whether this was where Chelsea's challenge was going to end, but they had just enough resolve to win a crucial game.
Or rather they had a match-winner in Drogba, whose goal meant that the gap to United at the top is four points, although the champions have two games in hand. You could not help thinking that Sir Alex Ferguson's team would not have left it until the 78th minute to beat Portsmouth last night. Neither do United look as pedestrian and predictable as Chelsea do at times, but with Drogba on this form it looks like they will always have a chance.
Hiddink (below) is just about hanging in there and he knows it. "I have to face the facts that we had two difficult games," he said. "I haven't shut my eyes to [problems] in the Wigan game as well, but we must improve. What is good in this team is that they react when there are difficulties. This team is not happy when things are not going well. Then you see they get rewards."
The Chelsea coach is not so daft that he is calling it on with United, but he is keen on reminding Ferguson that his side have not given up. "[A gap of] four points means there is more pressure on them, but they still have two games in hand," Hiddink said. "They're an experienced team. But it's good, for everyone in this championship to have the pressure on the side at the top."
Hiddink called it right when he brought on the Portuguese winger Ricardo Quaresma for the final stages, he was lively and contributed to the pressure that led to the goal. The problem for Hiddink is that there are just so few options available. Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda's contribution was negligible but with Nicolas Anelka out with a bruised toe there was little else he could do. He praised his team's reaction to adversity, their imagination was less impressive.
Petr Cech kept them in the match when he saved from Sean Davis and David Nugent, but come the end of the game there was some desperate defending. Peter Crouch had broken free on 69 minutes and crossed for Niko Kranjcar who got his touch wrong and put the ball wide. Pompey had their chances, but Chelsea are at last running into a bit of luck.
Portsmouth announced after the match that Paul Hart will be coach until the end of the season and last night you could see why he has the board's confidence. They look much more disciplined under Hart and Brian Kidd and, despite being 16th, there are definitely signs of life. David James was excellent again, and Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin solid, but for the one moment they let Drogba in.
Hart said: "I'm very pleased to be here until the end of the season. It's good for the club and players that there's been a decision made. You don't want to speak too soon – it's been three games, but in those matches the players have shown magnificent determination and a response to what we've asked. If we maintain that spirit, we'll be a difficult side to beat. We deserved to get a point, and we could have won."
This was James's 538th Premier League appearance and he clearly still lives for evenings like these in the rainwith, as Pompey have found of late, backs against the wall. James saved brilliantly from Alex's free-kick at the end of the first half. But when Drogba got the ball from Jose Bosingwa's cross, the ball was past James before he could react.
In the period at the start of the second half, when Nugent and Kranjcar should have scored, Pompey were on top. If they could have supported Crouch more they might have won. At the end Drogba even threw his shirt into the crowd. There was a time when it might have come straight back at him but things are different now.
Goals: Drogba (78) 0-1.
Portsmouth (4-4-1-1): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Pennant (Utaka, 70), Mullins, Davis, Nugent; Kranjcar; Crouch. Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Kaboul, Pamarot, Kanu, Basinas, Belhadj.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Terry, Alex, A Cole; Mikel (Belletti, 56); Kalou (Quaresma, 60), Ballack (Mancienne, 90), Lampard, Malouda; Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ivanovic, Di Santo, Ferreira.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Man of the match: Drogba.
Attendance: 20, 326.
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