Lampard gets Blues off hook
Chelsea 2 Portsmouth 1
Thursday 17 December 2009
A point made, if not quite a point taken. Avram Grant returned to his former club and saw his Portsmouth team give Chelsea a terrible fright, although in the end they were unable to hold on for an unlikely draw.
Grant still feels aggrieved that he was sacked as manager by Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, after losing the Champions League final in a penalty shoot-out. He was given a lukewarm welcome from the Chelsea supporters before the game, but he could leave with his head held high.
Chelsea's defending was once again worse than shambolic. They conceded a soft goal in the 51st minute from Frédéric Piquionne that put the scores level, and were fortunate not to let in two more in the following 10 minutes as hesitation and panic became the order of the day.
As frustration grew among the fans in the blue seats, it was Frank Lampard who kept a cool head, putting his penalty miss at Manchester City behind him with a thumping finish from the spot that gives Chelsea their first win in five games and reinstates their three-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.
Carlo Ancelotti was a relieved man, despite Chelsea's shaky moments. "The only important thing was to win," the Chelsea manager said. "After four games without a victory, and when Portsmouth equalised, we didn't have confidence that we would win the game. We did a good job, but not a beautiful job."
Chelsea were missing Didier Drogba, who has a back injury, and had their leading scorer been fit to start, the game could have been dead and buried by half-time. Lampard, Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou and Michael Ballack all went close before Anelka put Chelsea ahead in the 23rd minute. Alex was recalled to the side in place of Ricardo Carvalho in the hope he would bring greater defensive composure. But the Brazilian made his presence felt in attack, popping up on the right wing to centre for the unmarked Anelka to score.
It was a poignant moment for Anelka, who had been brought to Chelsea by Grant but then was rarely picked by a manager who admitted he did not rate him. Anelka is due to open talks on a new contract with Chelsea in the coming days, and two goals in his last two games can only strengthen his bargaining position.
The Portsmouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic saved well from Lampard as Chelsea continued their steady pounding of the visitors' goal. But that all ended abruptly when Portsmouth snatched an equaliser.
Chelsea's crisis of confidence in defence was exposed six minutes into the second half. John Terry conceded a free-kick 25 yards from goal, which Jamie O'Hara fired into the Chelsea wall. The ball then ricocheted off Kalou and hit Ashley Cole before dropping kindly to Piquionne, who smashed the ball past Petr Cech with glee for his fifth goal of the season.
The goal sparked a remarkable spell for Chelsea, who became nervy and could have conceded two more in the next 10 minutes. O'Hara slipped past Terry and crossed for Kevin-Prince Boateng who dwelled too long on the ball, allowing Ashley Cole to tackle. Then Boateng got away from Terry but, with only Cech to beat, he lost his footing on the sodden turf and spooned his shot into the crowd.
Ancelotti rang the changes to try to wrest back the initiative, and it worked. Chelsea managed to pin Portsmouth back, and after 79 minutes the pressure told, with the right-back Branislav Ivanovic tearing into the Portsmouth penalty area only to be upended by Marc Wilson for a clear penalty.
Lampard stepped up, having missed his most recent attempt from 12 yards in the club's 2-1 defeat at Manchester City. If Lampard felt the pressure, he did not show it as he blasted his kick high into the middle of the goal.
"It was a pity because I didn't see how Chelsea were going to score," Grant said. He was, however, pleased with his side's overall performance. "We played well. We played against a team who are very strong at home. But they didn't create many chances and in the second half we had two big chances. But they scored a goal from no chance really. The result is disappointing but the performance was good."
Of the penalty, Grant said: "Of course it was a penalty. Marc is a very good young player but sometimes inexperience costs. He made a mistake but he is a very good player."
The goal meant that Grant lost a game at Stamford Bridge for the first time, as Chelsea never lost a home game during his eight-month reign at the club. Yet it also confirmed the club's perception that he is one of the game's nearly men.
Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, A Cole; Mikel (Malouda, 64); Ballack, Lampard; Deco (J Cole, 58); Anelka, Kalou (Borini, 72). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Carvalho, Zhirkov, Ferreira.
Portsmouth (4-5-1): Begovic; Finnan, Ben Haim, Wilson, Hreidarsson; Boateng, Diop (Hughes, 60), Mokoena (Utaka, 85), Mullins, O'Hara; Piquionne (Dindane, 71). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Vanden Borre, Yebda, Belhadj
Referee: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).
Man of the match: Anelka.
Meanwhile for Mrs Terry... Mrs T trots off
As husband John Terry was getting ready to tackle Portsmouth last night, down the road at Olympia his wife, Toni, was facing a test of her own, performing dressage in front of a demanding capacity crowd at the London International Horse Show.
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