Drogba's outrageous fortune is cruel blow for brave Tigers
Chelsea 2 Hull City 1
Sunday 16 August 2009
Sometime during the course of his English lessons, Chelsea's new manager Carlo Ancelotti has doubtless come across the cliché that there are no easy games in the Premier League.
It is not true, but here was the evidence that some are far harder than they ought to be. Ancelotti's new charges, tipped to top the table, only defeated Hull City, who are the choice of many to finish bottom of it, because a mis-hit cross by Didier Drogba in added time drifted into the net.
The Tigers may have lost their teeth last autumn and been left hanging on by their claw-nails in May, but they showed sufficient bite here to take the lead through new signing Stephen Hunt (pictured), whose challenge three years ago as a Reading player led to Petr Cech sustaining a fractured skull. Drogba equalised with a stunning free-kick but all Chelsea's second-half dominance was counting for nothing until his fortuitous intervention just before the end.
New boy that he is, Ancelotti could have copied the old Bill Shankly line, "same team as last season". By the end of the game, however, he had been forced to give a run to substitutes Michael Ballack, Deco and Salomon Kalou, the first of them as early as the 46th minute. There is a tactical difference too in that he wants to use a diamond-shaped midfield and push Nicolas Anelka, last season's Golden Boot winner, right up alongside Drogba. Having Frank Lampard just behind them ought to provide a potent attacking triangle, though the worry is that the influential Lampard will not find space to do his best work. That was the case yesterday.
Opposing managers will be quick to copy Hull's Phil Brown in deploying wide players to stop Chelsea's full-backs from breaking forward. "We had a game plan and I'm bitterly disappointed but also pleased with putting down a marker in London yet again."
His team enjoyed their visits to the capital last season, and a gritty goalless draw at Stamford Bridge back in February led to Luiz Felipe Scolari's sacking three days later. "You're getting sacked in the morning," the visiting support chorused at Ancelotti soon after the startling first goal. "I was worried," he admitted later – about the result, not the sack – "but in the end we deserved to win."
It was an outcome that looked in doubt from the 28th minute onwards. Hunt lofted a dangerous cross that Dean Marney headed over the bar and then took advantage of two useful deflections to open the scoring. Following a Hull free-kick, the industrious George Boateng's shot bounced off first Ashley Cole and then John Obi Mikel, falling perfectly for Hunt to tap into an empty net.
Eight minutes later Mikel was trapped in a tiger sandwich and from 25 yards Drogba hit a magnificent free-kick with what might be called the Ronaldo technique, keeping his body low over the ball, which flew just inside Boaz Myhill's left-hand post. There had been other chances but Ancelotti was not satisfied and replaced Mikel at the interval with Ballack for "more quality and more aggression".
There was an extra ration of both from thereon in. Anelka should have scored 25 seconds into the half, Myhill excelled with a save from the rampant Drogba and Kalou's first touch after replacing Florent Malouda was a header over the bar.
Hull were outraged to see six added minutes being signalled, although only one of them had elapsed when Drogba stormed down the middle, took a return pass from Deco out to the left and scored with what he could have pretended was a perfect chip over the stranded goalkeeper.
Relief for Chelsea and hope for Hull, who still hope to sign the Real Madrid striker Alvaro Negredo and possibly Celtic's right-back Andreas Hinkel.
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