Under normal circumstances, Chelsea followers would not wish any ill fortune to the proud footballers of the Ivory Coast, but this morning they must be hoping that Didier Drogba's team suffer unexpectedly early elimination from the African Cup of Nations, allowing him to return to London at the earliest possible moment.
Drogba has indicated that he will come back to the capital rather than taking either a slow boat or fast plane to China, where riches are on offer. That is just as well, for yesterday's lively lunchtime encounter proved again that Chelsea cannot afford to wave him farewell on a permanent basis. The Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku may have provided a bright little cameo towards the end, but the images of the day were of the man he replaced, Fernando Torres, first poking wide a glorious chance from 10 yards as his manager cursed in frustration, then trudging to the sidelines to the inevitable Norfolk chants of "What a waste of money".
For Torres it is a matter of one step forward – as in last weekend's performance against Sunderland – and one backward, like yesterday; one acrobatic volley against the bar last Saturday and one toe-poke wide of a gaping goal here. The feeling would normally be that a goal would see him right, a sentiment widely expressed after he scored in successive League games in September and then added two in the same game against Genk a month later. Since then, however, there has been nothing, in 17 games for club and country.
Chelsea's Andre Villas-Boas, commendably supportive of his player even though he was not the manager – or owner – who signed him a year ago, said: "He tried really hard, we're very happy with his play. He's been doing excellent work for the team and it doesn't matter who scores."
Unfortunately, yesterday nobody scored, for the first time since the team's last away defeat, at Queens Park Rangers in October. There was also a calf injury to Frank Lampard, the extent of which is not yet known, which made it just as well that Michael Essien was able to come on as a substitute for the second successive week.
Lampard was forced off shortly before half-time, just as Chelsea were coming into a game they had been largely absent from until that point. Norwich passed the ball whenever they could get hold of it, and thanks to solid defending from the centre-halves Zak Whitbread and Daniel Ayala and, above all, a fine performance from the goalkeeper John Ruddy, kept a clean sheet for the first time since achieving promotion last May.
"They all put their bodies on the line and it's a huge point for us," their manager, Paul Lambert, said. "Two years ago we were playing Yeovil, Walsall and Stockport and now we're competing with Chelsea."
Compete they did, and take the lead they could easily have done twice before Chelsea got into gear. In the 10th minute Steve Morison – who was playing for Millwall when Torres was winning the World Cup – played in his striking partner Grant Holt, who turned perfectly past David Luiz before shooting just wide of a post. Closer to half-time, after Ruddy had pushed away Torres's one good effort,Bradley Johnson's shot took a deflection off John Terry that appeared to have wrong-footed Petr Cech, who was nevertheless able to hold the ball.
From then on, every clear scoring opportunity was Chelsea's. On the hour, Jose Bosingwa pushed forward to set up Torres, who from the penalty spot took aim and knocked his shot well wide. Villas-Boas turned away in frustration, but having already had to replace Lampard, waiteduntil the last quarter of an hour before sending on Lukaku and Essien. Ruddy proved unbeatable whoever appeared. He saved from Juan Mata, then from Ramires and again from Mata, though Mark Clattenburg did not see the touch and awarded agoal-kick. Perhaps the referee was dozing off after having so little to do. Incredibly, he did not need to award a free-kick in the whole of the first half, even for offsides.
Chelsea's defending, with David Luiz much improved against the physicality of Holt, justified Villas-Boas's assertion that it was not necessary to rush his new signing Gary Cahill into action. Cahill did not make the substitutes' bench either, because Branislav Ivanovic was "more versatile", but he is available for Saturday's Cup tie with QPR. Lambert, who had expressed his frustration at the difficulties of adding to a thin squad, will shortly complete the signing the Leeds United midfielder Jonathan Howson, who watched the game, as did Cahill. Arguably the new Canary was the one singing on his way home.
Norwich (4-4-2): Ruddy; Martin, Ayala, Whitbread, Naughton; Pilkington, Fox (Crofts, 79), Johnson, Surman (Bennett, 90); Holt, Morison (Jackson, 79).
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Luiz, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Meireles (Essien, 79); Lampard (Malouda, 37), Sturridge, Torres (Lukaku, 77); Mata.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Ruddy (Norwich)
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content