Drogba to the rescue as Chelsea struggle

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The Independent Online

John Terry always operated on the basis that he was the virtual embodiment of Chelsea Football Club but since the exposure of his affair with the mother of Wayne Bridge's son it has come a step closer. To some this was not Hull versus Chelsea but the second instalment of Terry against the world, which until the issue of the England captaincy is resolved is how it is likely to be.

This game was, however, very much more than that. It was about a side suffering a loss of momentum at the worst time – just after Manchester United had produced a compelling, virtuoso display at the Emirates Stadium and just before Chelsea face Arsenal. A two-point lead with more than three months of the season remaining is not much of an advantage.

It also exploded one of the myths that envelop Stamford Bridge every couple of years – that Chelsea will suffer during the Africa Cup of Nations. For the record, the last time they dropped points while the tournament was in progress was January 2006 when they were held at home by Charlton. Here, no sooner did their reinforcements arrive from Angola than they became the slightly uncertain team away from home that they had been before Didier Drogba and the rest departed.

But for Drogba, who scored his 20th goal of the season, this might have been a fourth away Premier League defeat of the season. Nevertheless, Carlo Ancelotti stated that this was a "good result," and added: "We don't have to be disappointed, Hull put us under a lot of pressure." The Chelsea manager confirmed that if Terry wished to miss the FA Cup tie with Cardiff on Valentine's weekend to be with his wife, who is now sheltering from the media storm in Dubai, that would not be a problem. "If he needs a holiday, I will give him one," Ancelotti said. "If not, he will play."

For a sportsman such as Terry, a football pitch is the one place where his thoughts could be entirely focused on the game. There was no dramatic intervention from him as there had been with his winner at Burnley on Saturday and, generally, the booing and baiting were not as pronounced.

Without the scandal, nobody would have thought it remarkable that at Turf Moor the final song played before kick-off was Bryan Ferry's "Let's Stick Together", with its opening line of "The marriage vow is very sacred". Here, it was the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love with Someone You Shouldn't Have Fallen in Love With?"

Perhaps the story should not be the public disintegration of Mr Chelsea but the fact that when Steven Mouyokolo slipped clear of his marker Michael Ballack, it was the 15th time out of 20 League goals conceded that the defence he leads has succumbed to a set-piece – this one was a Stephen Hunt corner. It was a statistic Phil Brown, the Hull manager, was perfectly aware of. In first-half stoppage time, it might have been 16 had Anthony Gardner not aimed his header from Tom Cairney's free-kick fractionally too high.

This was a similar task for Ancelotti's men to the one they faced at Burnley; to break down a struggling team who have a good home record. Apart from one defeat by Manchester United, Hull had not lost at the KC Stadium since September.

The Premier League leaders set about it with a grim, if seldom fluid, determination which Hull resisted with a display Brown thought their best of the season, although they were indebted to some fine goalkeeping from Boaz Myhill, who saved a header from Terry among others.

They had led for 12 minutes when referee Mark Clattenburg allowed play on when Nicolas Anelka was fouled on the edge of the area. Frank Lampard was then chopped down inside the box and the referee awarded a free-kick for the first foul on the Frenchman. Drogba stepped up to take it. George Boateng, under the impression the free-kick was indirect, turned his back in the Hull wall with fatal results and suddenly Chelsea seemed more than a team that revolved around their captain's sex life.

Hull City (4-4-2): Myhill; McShane (Zayatte, 90), Mouyokolo, Gardner, Dawson; Fagan, Boateng, Cairney, Hunt; Altidore (Kilbane, 85), Vennegoor of Hesselink (Zaki, 66). Substitutes not used: Duke (gk), Barmby, Geovanni, Mendy.

Chelsea (4-3-1-2): Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, Zhirkov (A Cole, 81); Ballack (J Cole, 71), Deco, Lampard; Malouda; Anelka (Sturridge, 81), Drogba. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Ferreira, Kalou, Alex.

Referee: M Clattenburg (County Durham).

Booked: Hull City McShane; Chelsea Ivanovic, Terry, Drogba.

Man of the match: Cairney.

Attendance: 24,957.

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