Can't tell the bottom from the top? There was little difficulty in doing so here yesterday as Chelsea completed a fourth successive victory by inflicting West Ham's fourth defeat. The surprise was that the champions conceded a goal, volleyed in by their former midfielder Scott Parker too late to matter. It was the first time Petr Cech had bent his back to retrieve the ball since a defeat at Tottenham back in April, more than 11 hours of football time ago.
A crowd close to capacity had defied all Transport for London's best efforts to prevent them attending (the District Line linking the two clubs was closed) but this was surely one of the least passionate in the long series of derbies between them. Its pattern was set by Michael Essien's header in the second minute and confirmed by Salomon Kalou's luckier goal in the 17th, after howlers by the England – or former England? – pair Robert Green and Matthew Upson.
The home side showed some traditional spirit before Essien's second header and Parker's irrelevant response but the gap in quality was frightening; not least for those who continue to talk about the most competitive league in the world. Of course, it can be related in large part to the gap in finances. Chelsea may or may not be moving towards breaking even, as they will need to under Uefa regulations, but they were still able to introduce a new £20 million signing in the slim young Brazilian midfielder Ramires.
Such sums must make West Ham and their followers want to cry after a summer in which merely persuading Parker to sign a new contract was the greatest achievement. Fortunately the new owners, David Sullivan and David Gold, knew better than to accept Tottenham's offer for him, tempting as it must have been. Sullivan revealed yesterday a further example of what he called "the madness of the way the club was run" – an agent claiming to be owed £50,000 for a pre-season friendly last year which made a £70,000 loss. "It will take a few years to take West Ham United to where we want to be," Sullivan added, which may be an understatement.
The board, unpopular for sacking Gianfranco Zola last summer, continue to pledge their faith in Avram Grant, the manager who once helped Chelsea to become runners-up in the Champions' League and Premier League. He was wearing funereal black last night as he insisted: "The level today was not [that of] a relegation team. The organisation was better and with time we'll improve."
The start was about as bad as could be. After 100 seconds the corner won by Ramires was curled over by Didier Drogba on to the head of Essien for a simple goal. West Ham's Victor Obinna, on loan from Internazionale, could have become a hero with his first touch in English football, but needed time to find his range; one weak effort went straight at Cech and his second brought a throw-in.
Before a quarter of the game had been played, the depression over Upton Park deepened with the sort of goal that tends to afflict teams at the bottom. Green fumbled Drogba's well-struck free-kick; Upson could have cleared it anywhere but managed to hit Kalou, from whom the ball rebounded into the net.
For a contest to break out West Ham were required to score the next goal. Obinna should have done so and Carlton Cole was rightly given offside to deny them a significant boost just before the interval. Kieron Dyer, West Ham's player of the month for August – an award for which there was not a lot of competition – appeared as a substitute for the second half and was lively though his team could not force another chance until after Essien headed his second goal from Paulo Ferreira's excellent cross.
Parker responded defiantly before the substitute Frédéric Piquionne, one of Grant's refugees from Portsmouth, contrived the miss of the season by hitting the bar from perhaps two feet out. Three-two would hardly have reflected the gap between the teams; which the league table does this morning.
Substitutes: West Ham: Dyer for Boa Morte (h-t); Piquionne for Behrami (72). Chelsea: Kakuta for Anelka (76); Alex for Terry (82); Malouda for Kalou (84).
Bookings: West Ham: Parker, Noble. Chelsea: Cole, Ivanovic.
Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the match: Essien
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