To blow it from here would be so tragic... so utterly typical

FAN'S EYE VIEW; No 134 Chelsea
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The Independent Online
Sky's decision to cover the derby between Queen's Park Rangers and Chelsea was one of those rare occasions when television abetted rather than hindered match-going fans. The extra 24 hours to sleep off New Year's Eve revelries meant that Blues supporters saw 1996 in with a spring in their stride. In previous years we have always seemed to have to drag ourselves out of bed at some ungodly hour for an 11am kick-off.

I found myself sitting next to a father and son who both supported Rangers. The boy was about eight and spent the half-hour before kick-off asking me questions about how Chelsea had been playing during the season, then dissecting my answers with his father to try and provide himself with the reassurance that the Superhoops were going to win three points in the battle against relegation.

The first half was the worst performance I have witnessed by two Premiership teams this season - countless passes went woefully astray. Then Bradley Allen scored a gem in the 70th minute and celebrated wildly. Matthew Brazier's own goal deflated him somewhat but, as the boy kept telling me: "A point in a derby game has got to be considered a good result."

With the scoreboard clock having been reading 90 for what seemed like an aeon, Paul Furlong rose and slotted in the winner. I rose as one with the massed Chelsea ranks to salute the victory.

When I looked down I saw the boy, he was aghast and then held his face in his hands so that no one would see him crying. As the final whistle went I put an arm on his shoulder. I've been there enough times with Chelsea to know the emptiness that defeat brings. "It'll get better," I said, but I knew he didn't believe me.

The following Sunday found me nearly hoarse from screaming Chelsea to an unlikely victory against Newcastle in the FA Cup. It seemed highly improbable that the team of the moment would make the same mistake they had a month earlier when we had beaten them in the league, but despite squandering a hatful of chances and some increasingly nervous defending, we led 1-0 deep into injury-time. As the ball drifted out for a goal kick, my heart soared. I knew that as the ball crossed high over the halfway line that the referee would blow his whistle and we would be in the fourth round.

Dimitri Kharin's kick defied description, as did the fact that, rather than stay on his line and let the defence close Les Ferdinand down, he ran forward, opening his legs just wide enough for the ball to be poked through them.

I looked desperately for a lineman's flag and then to the referee; perhaps he had blown the final whistle before the ball had gone in. Chelsea kicked off and shattered these fragile illusions. I put my head in my hands and for a minute I was eight again.

And so the story almost ends. A final twist was provided when the draw decreed that in the fourth round QPR would play Newcastle (or Chelsea).

Three of us travelled up together to the replay. One of the party "had a feeling", sadly the last time he made that pronouncement we had lost 4-1 at home to Manchester United.

It was a brilliant match but, at 2-1 down with two minutes to go when Ruud Gullit hooked the ball past Pavel Srnicek, it was difficult to tell who was the most amazed, the Newcastle fans that we had had the temerity to do to them what they had done to us, or ourselves that they had let us.

No more goals meant the game would be decided by penalties. Last year we had lost to Millwall through the dreaded spot kicks. Srnicek was playing a blinder and we were strangers in a strange land. On the whole, things had looked better.

Peter Beardsley missed, then Kevin Hitchcock saved Steve Watson's shot and after four penalties we were 2-0 up. To blow it from here would be so tragic. To blow it from here would be typical Chelsea.

When Eddie Newton's shot went in everything stopped for a second. He stood smiling at us and we grinned back. Then Wise dashed forward from the halfway line and pandemonium ensued.

On leaving the stadium the Newcastle fans wished us well for the rest of the competition and we told them they'd win the championship. I recognised the tears in their eyes... but this time they were different to the tears in mine.

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