Mourinho's shush to United as Chelsea make title noises

Norwich City 1 - Chelsea 3
Click to follow
The Independent Football

No need for any emotive gestures from Jose Mourinho. This result was as effective as any "shush" to Sir Alex Ferguson, eloquently answering any belief emanating from the North-west that Chelsea may be premature in their title talk.

No need for any emotive gestures from Jose Mourinho. This result was as effective as any "shush" to Sir Alex Ferguson, eloquently answering any belief emanating from the North-west that Chelsea may be premature in their title talk.

Ferguson's attempt to instil doubts in the Chelsea machine may have had more resonance if his Manchester United had not earlier surrendered two points against a 10-man Crystal Palace. Chelsea are eight points clear of United, their closest challengers.

But at least the knight of the realm can be content that Norwich made this a thorough examination for Chelsea, who may just have had European matters on their collective minds. When the Canaries drew level approaching half-way into the second half, ending the visitors' record of 10 successive Premiership shut-outs, for a few moments the Blues suddenly had a vulnerable look to them. Ultimately, though, it merely had the effect of regalvanising the Carling Cup winners who had been perhaps too complacent after establishing a half-time lead.

As for Delia Smith, who watched the game with the fans behind one goal, she could take pride in the Norwich supporters' response and that of her players after a week in which her interval contribution in Monday night's game against Manchester City has been cause for national debate. The Chelsea manager, who had applauded Delia's half-time impassioned exhortation to the fans, had promised a bottle of Portuguese wine for the City director and majority shareholder, who had moved among the faithful before the game, hugging one supporter who sported the slogan "Let's Be 'Aving You" on his jacket.

Mourinho can luxuriate on this, the final lap, his team poised with Schumacher-like superiority. He made no concessions to Tuesday's Champions' League game at home to Barcelona, naming his strongest side, injuries permitting, in which Damien Duff and Joe Cole provided support from the flanks for Didier Drogba.

Darren Huckerby returned after missing Monday's defeat by Manchester City in a Norwich side which has secured only one victory since mid-December, and whose cause looks hopeless. In the first half, there was rarely any suggestion that the hosts could buck the season's trend as the Londoners passed the ball imperiously and went close on several occasions.

Frank Lampard instigated Chelsea's best early attempt, working the ball through into a surfeit of space on the left. Duff cut in and lobbed the ball past goalkeeper Robert Green, but 21-year-old Jason Shackell, making only his second Premiership start, appeared from nowhere to head clear and stifle the cries of visiting supporters in their throats. Then Lampard's speculative drive from distance was only inches over.

Cole was in particularly menacing mood and warmed the blood on a bitterly cold evening. His persistence paid dividends in the 21st minute. Having already been fouled by Craig Fleming - the referee, Mark Halsey, playing a good advantage - he won another challenge, this time with Marc Edworthy, and despatched the ball venomously with minimum backlift past Green from the edge of the area. Cole could have added to that lead, but when Duff cut the ball back the former West Ham man volleyed over.

Although Adam Drury had been cautioned for a foul on Tiago and Cole suffered the same fate for clattering Huckerby, this had appeared to promise Mr Halsey one of his quieter evenings. But 10 minutes before the interval the temperature was raised when a contretemps between Huckerby and Glen Johnson ended with the Chelsea full-back shoving the Norwich man. He was fortunate to escape without punishment. The incident brought the crowd to life and, as half-time approached, Norwich enjoyed their best period. A Dean Ashton effort was deflected wide and then from the resulting corner the former Crewe striker lashed the ball over the bar.

John Terry saw a header deflected wide and Green saved from Drogba. But City weren't abandoning hope yet. A Huckerby corner found Ashton, who just failed to connect with his header.

Then, just after the hour, Leon McKenzie played the ball wide to Huckerby, and when the cross came into the centre, he rose to steer the ball wide of Petr Cech. Mourinho sent on Eidur Gudjohnsen and Mateja Kezman. A Damien Francis header from Graham Stuart's cross may have caused Chelsea more embarrassment but the ball was clutched out of the air by Cech.

But Chelsea were only biding their time. Gudjohnsen played the ball into Lampard who stretched to release Kezman. The striker netted only his second League goal. Defender Ricardo Carvalho was unmarked when he headed Chelsea's third and there was no way back for Norwich.

For Chelsea, one trophy in the bag, another there for the taking. Mourinho was as quiet as a lamb. Delia went home to roast hers.

Comments