Everyone seemed to be on their best behaviour at Stamford Bridge, none more so than the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, the sulky Alan Rickman of the Premiership with the good looks of an ageing Brad Pitt. For once, he left the embarrassing pantomime performance moment to his own players.
Michael Essien's own goal, cunningly crafted by Ashley Cole, who nudged the ball with his knee on to Essien's torso and past the goalkeeper - was a comedy classic. Not even a "no way" from Jose at that point: he simply turned his back on the field of play and sat down in the dug-out. It was time to retreat to his tent, like Achilles at Troy, and let his silence do the talking. Managers are always saying that once the players are on the field, it is down to them. But relentless television coverage, with cameras trained on the dug-outs, has turned them into touchline personalities with no role to play apart from scything the air with disgust or yelling abuse at the hapless fourth official.
Mourinho (right) has his fair share of finger signals, bellows and pointing gestures, like a builder shouting at colleagues at the top of a crane. Most managers do indeed look like builders - or accountants - in suits (track or pin-striped). But Mourinho is different. In his trademark black overcoat, his classy blue muffler (not, one feels, purchased in the club shop) and perfect hair-cut, he is the very model of a modern major manager.
By contrast, the Reading manager, Steve Coppell, resembled a gaffer's gofer, or a cheeky PE master. As a lady in my local, the Haverstock Arms in London's Belsize Park, said before kick-off: "Mourinho is the most handsome man I've ever seen in my life. Ever. And I've seen all Cary Grant's films."
The regulars checked their beer and abandoned all further hope of a romantic killing this lunchtime. Didier Drogba may get the goals, but Jose does the scoring. He sat down on the bench, blew out his cheeks and cocked his leg. Five minutes later, he crossed his arms, leant back and relaxed.
A foul had been committed against his team, but the Boxing Day gloves never once came off. Mourinho may sometimes be a spoilt little wuss, but he knows a good side, and an honest side, when he sees one. And Reading were both, even when Chelsea dominated the game. Just before half-time, Mourinho stood up tamely and raised a right arm about nothing in particular. At the same time, he was walking backwards, like Spike Milligan, for Christmas: we knew he had lost his appetite for a quarrel.
It could not have been too much goose or designer mince pies: he was still as thin as a rake. But a scowl suddenly appeared when Reading missed three good chances, and he recrossed his arms.
He remained tight-lipped after substituting poor old Andrei Shevchenko (who, once again, played well, without luck). And he registered a weak protest gesture at Reading's first, thoroughly deserved equaliser, again walking backwards for Christmas, though not across the Irish sea.
He made a double substitution that both paid off and misfired. Drogba's second goal was one consequence; Reading's second equaliser was another.
When Drogba's went in, he pumped his hands like pistons, shoved them in his slanting, beautifully tailored pockets and started that aimless pointing exercise. He was warming up a little.
But then Reading's second finished him off. He rose mildly to shake Coppell's hand and disappeared quickly. No rants. No raves. There was nothing he could do. The scarf was still perfectly in place. And so was his cool.Reuse content