At the final whistle tonight there was an impassioned chorus of Rafa Benitez’s name, sung by supporters with pride and delight. Unfortunately for the Chelsea manager it came from the Queens Park Rangers fans in the away end at Stamford Bridge.
As for Benitez himself he had made a quick exit, having just presided over the worst league result at Stamford Bridge in recent years and arguably the biggest shock of the Premier League season so far. Chelsea 0, Queen's Park Rangers 1. It looks like a misprint, but it actually happened: bottom-of-the-table QPR beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
QPR have not won at Stamford Bridge since April 1983, when both sides were in the old Second Division, in a season in which Chelsea also lost at home to Shrewsbury Town. The killer blow was delivered by Shaun Wright-Phillips who joined Chelsea more than seven years ago as one of the great emerging talents of English football and has since then lost his way. Tonight, he came in from the cold in spectacular fashion.
In his time at Chelsea, Wright-Phillips scored just one Premier League goal at Stamford Bridge in his three years at the club, and no-one will remember that one as long as they remember the goal he scored tonight. A first-half substitute for Junior Hoilett, Wright-Phillips was one of those QPR players who sleepwalked through a defeat to Liverpool on Sunday like a team that had already accepted the cold embrace of relegation.
Tonight, QPR won only their second game in 21 matches and in doing so declared themselves very much alive and kicking. "We had a good meeting after the Liverpool game," Redknapp said. "I think I convinced them we can stay up. I said that on Sunday and everybody probably thought I was mad. I didn't go home thinking we were doomed and 'What have I done here?'"
As for Chelsea, Benitez was moved to declare that if his team, 14 points behind leaders Manchester United in fourth, with a game in hand, were to challenge for the title this season they would need to be "almost perfect". That sounds like a tall order.
From Chelsea's point of view, Demba Ba cannot come join soon enough, and there were suggestions that he was in the stadium ahead of what is expected to the final stages in the agent-free-for-all carve-up that has been his move from Newcastle.
Fernando Torres is tired, according to Benitez, which is understandable given that he has started all 20 of Chelsea's league games this season. Even so, that did not completely account for another lifeless display from Chelsea's No 9. He was not the only one. The likes of David Luiz, Frank Lampard and Oscar might have done better too.
Benitez left Juan Mata, Ashley Cole, Ramires and Eden Hazard on the bench, eventually having to bring on all but Cole, who was goaded by the QPR fans as "John Terry's b****" as he warmed up on the touchline yet managed to keep his cool – which is progress. Marko Marin was given his first league start by Benitez and might have been sent off in the first four minutes for a terrible foul on Stéphane Mbia.
There will be criticism for Benitez for playing the side that he did, but this was a Chelsea XI that should have beaten a QPR team with their confidence on the floor. This time Redknapp said that he had hammered home to his players the job required of them. Certainly a 4-3-3 formation that reverted to 4-5-1 when they were defending looked a lot more effective than the side which succumbed so easily on Sunday.
There were excellent performances from Shaun Derry, Esteban Granero, Ryan Nelsen and Nedum Onuoha but the pick of the lot was Julio Cesar. His save from Torres on 53 minutes when the striker had a hit at goal from close range was a match-defining moment.
There was no doubt that QPR rode their luck at times, but Chelsea had their moment of good fortune early on with Marin. At 5ft 7in, he is not the man you would anticipate coming over all Ron Harris. Losing control of the ball on four minutes, he launched studs-up at Mbia and caught the midfielder squarely on the shin and was only given a yellow card.
It should have been a red card. Chelsea's best chance of the first half came within two minutes of the break when a shot from Oscar that was deflected off Lampard was well-stopped by Cesar who was travelling in the wrong direction at the time.
Having left Djbril Cissé on the bench in favour of Adel Taraabt at centre-forward, Redknapp lacked a cutting edge to test Ross Turnbull in goal. The screw was turned on QPR after the break. Marin sent the ball across goal where a touch from Victor Moses would have been enough for a goal. Gary Cahill headed just over the bar. Cesar made that save from Torres.
Only on one occasion before the goal did they carve out a proper chance when Taraabt managed to get the ball through to Jamie Mackie who could not get away from Cahill to get the shot in.
It was from a corner that QPR finally broke through, one that was won by their own hard work. When the ball came out, Taraabt teed it up nicely for Wright-Phillips who struck a well-judged right foot shot past Turnbull and inside the goalkeeper's right post. At the end, Redknapp punched the air in front of his supporters, his pronouncement on Sunday that his side could stay up this season looking a shade more credible.
Man of the match Cesar.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee L Mason (Lancashire).
- More about:
- Chelsea F.c.
- Frank Lampard
- Harry Redknapp
- Loftus Road Stadium
- Premier League
- Queens Park Rangers
- Stamford Bridge