Steve Clarke smiled wryly. “You’re going back a long way there,” the West Bromwich Albion manager said. He had been reminded of the night in February 1997 when Erland Johnsen won a penalty for Chelsea in the dying minutes of extra time in an FA Cup fifth-round replay with an embarrassing dive into the body of Leicester City’s Spencer Prior. Clarke was playing that night, for Chelsea. “We got that one and we went on to win the Cup,” he recalled.
It was a reminder, in the wake of Albion’s fury at the last-minute penalty awarded against them on Saturday when Ramires dived in the box, that such incidents have been happening for a long time. Once again, the big club playing at home got the decision; this time Clarke was on the wrong end of it.
Though Chelsea’s manager, Jose Mourinho, said, in public at least, he had “no doubt” it was a penalty, Andre Marriner may be dropped from the referees’ list for a week for falling for Ramires’ fall. With the incident coming a week after Marriner dismissed two Sunderland players, but not Hull’s Robbie Brady for a bad foul, he may be in need of a rest. Mourinho added: “I’m sorry to say the referee made loads of mistakes today – and all of them against us.”
Clarke, who had more reason to be vituperative, was more conciliatory. “We had three points and they were taken away quite cruelly; I’m angry, frustrated, sad for my team. But referees are human. These things happen in football. I just hope they even up over the season.”
Marriner’s was not the only howler. Liam Ridgewell was badly at fault for Samuel Eto’o’s opener and Petr Cech blundered when Albion went ahead through Stéphane Sessègnon. In addition both Chris Brunt and Goran Popov could have put the game beyond Chelsea in the final minutes, Brunt by taking advantage of a two-on-one break, Popov by taking the ball into the corner instead of shooting. “It is easy to criticise and be hard on players when they make decisions; it is all about making decisions on the pitch,” said Clarke.
Ramires will escape punishment for simulation, but his acting increases the clamour for retrospective action to be taken against divers. Ironically, Mourinho had himself said on the eve of the match: “If, because of diving, a football result directly is affected, I think the player should be punished.” He then added: “I hate it, but I don’t need to speak to my players because they don’t dive.”
The controversy distracted attention from Albion’s fine performance, Chelsea’s patchy one, and a worrying afternoon for Roy Hodgson. The England manager was at St Mary’s, where he enjoyed watching Southampton’s England men prospering, but when he gets the report from Stamford Bridge he may frown.
Gary Cahill had an uncomfortable afternoon. Beaten in the air by Shane Long when the striker signalled Albion’s second-half revival by hitting the post, Cahill then lost Gareth McAuley at a corner, and after the Irishman’s header was parried Long levelled. England’s centre-half was left on the deck by, of all people, Ridgewell, before the latter squared for Sessègnon to put Albion ahead.
Another Hodgson regular, Frank Lampard, again had one of those increasingly frequent afternoons when he looks off the pace. But at least he was playing. Ashley Cole was left on the bench with an uncompromising message from Mourinho. The Chelsea manager confirmed Cole had been dropped in response to his performance at Newcastle and Cesar Azpilicueta, usually a right-back, was at left-back.
“Of course it is not Azpilicueta’s best position,” said Mourinho, “but he was fantastic against Schalke and very good again today. Ashley is a top professional, he has to work hard to fight hard because the place is his place.” Ryan Bertrand, meanwhile, is reduced, 18 months after starting in the Champions League final, to occasional outings in the Capital One Cup. At 24 a once-promising career appears to have stalled. He has suffered a knock recently, but if Azpilicueta is keeping out Cole he’s likely to be selected ahead of Bertrand too.
Another England candidate who may struggle to win his place back is goalkeeper Ben Foster. Hodgson spoke confidently of him being back in the Albion side and having “played 20-odd games” by the time the World Cup squad is picked, but such is Boaz Myhill’s form that is by no means a given.