Fans turn on Scolari as Chelsea settle for less
Chelsea 0 Hull City 0
Sunday 08 February 2009
An hour into this match, with Chelsea labouring against the team with the worst defensive record in the Premier League, a team who had won one point in 21, Luiz Felipe Scolari made a substitution. When it became clear that Ricardo Quaresma was going to have his debut curtailed, the mutiny began.
"You don't know what you're doing," came the accusation from the Matthew Harding Stand, where Chelsea's most dedicated fans sit.
Whether he saw the match on television, or simply reads the result in Pravda, the again-absent Roman Abramovich may himself ask the same question. Unless West Ham do them a rare favour at Upton Park today Chelsea's title challenge must be regarded as all but over. Their failure to beat a Hull team who arrived on an apparently unstoppable downward spiral leaves them four points adrift of Manchester United, who have two games in hand. The issue now is ensuring that they qualify for one of the three automatic Champions' League places, for Chelsea now trail third-placed Aston Villa.
Does Scolari know what he is doing? As it happens, he did in the case in point. Quaresma has hardly played in recent months, having been estranged at Internazionale, from whom he is loaned, and after a bright start had faded. It was risking injury to keep him on.
However, the continued omission of Didier Drogba, and the refusal to adapt his system, invites the question. Scolari refused to answer himself but Ray Wilkins, his assistant, mounted a vigorous defence.
"He does know what he is doing," said Wilkins. "He has been in the game a long time and when you look at what he has won [World Cup, World Club Championship, etc] it is a tad out of order. It is unnecessary and not very pleasant to hear. I don't think it should be heard in our stadium."
All through Wilkins' press conference the fire alarm was ringing. "Is it an emergency, Ray?" he was asked. Acknowledging the question referred to the prospect of Chelsea's season going up in flames rather than the ground, he insisted it was not.
But then he added, in reference to Chelsea dropping to fourth: "You will see a lot of changes between positions two, three and four between now and the end of the season."
What about first? "It will be tough to catch [Manchester United] – but we will give it a go. Second is never good enough for a club of Chelsea's standing. There is no way we will give up with the talent we have in the club."
That talent, however, is not performing. Chelsea have taken 17 points from 12 matches. Mid-table form, at best. Inevitably confidence is fragile, Wilkins admitted the team looked "anxious". They needed a good start, and should have had one.
In the first minute Frank Lampard curled in a free-kick, Michael Ballack flicked on, and Matt Duke parried. The ball fell to John Terry, unchallenged, three yards from goal. Somehow he scooped it over.
"Had that gone in I'm sure we would have gone on and won comfortably," said Wilkins. "We would have come back and won 2-1," said Phil Brown, tongue rather more in cheek.
Hull could have easily won their first match here in more than a century of trying – they were Chelsea's first visitors in 1905 – having made and missed the best chances. Five minutes before the break Kevin Kilbane rose to head a Sam Ricketts cross against the outside of the post. Five minutes after the interval Alex cleared a goalbound header from Geovanni after a Dean Marney free-kick.
Next, from a breakaway, the busy Craig Fagan beat John Obi Mikel to the ball, but, withonly Hilario to beat, chipped weakly into the keeper's arms. Then Marney, after a flowing move between himself and Geovanni, shot just wide.
And what of Chelsea? Quaresma, having unveiled his trademark outside-of-the-foot cross early on, drew a fine save from Duke after 19 minutes following a counterattack.
Ballack hit the side-netting with a free-kick then JohnTerry had a dangerous headerblocked. There was also a penalty appeal after Salomon Kalou's thumping shot had struck Andy Dawson's arm. Finally, with fans making an early exit, Chelsea won a well-placed free-kick.
Drogba and Lampard stood over it, then Drogba thumped well wide. Lampard looked pensive. So too, when the final whistle went soon after to a crescendo of boos and he headed sharpish for the tunnel, did Scolari.
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Zayatte
Match rating: 5/10
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