If England need a man to see them through a World Cup finals penalty shoot-out next summer then they need look no further than Frank Lampard – in fact, you can put him down for the first three spot-kicks.
In remarkable circumstances yesterday, Lampard had to retake a second-half penalty on two occasions, beating Robert Green from the spot three times in two minutes. Luckily for Chelsea, Lampard has ice in his veins: he has learnt to deal with the bottles thrown at him at corners when he visits Upton Park, but the psychological strain of having to convert a penalty three times in a row is something new.
The penalties had to be retaken because the referee Mike Dean had spotted an encroachment in the 'D' by Chelsea players as Lampard began his run-up. To start invoking a law that is largely ignored these days was bizarre, but it had been an extremely erratic decision to award the penalty against Matthew Upson in the first place.
It was a pity for West Ham that Lampard stole the show because until then the home side looked like they might continue the weekend's theme of inflicting damage upon the Premier League's big four. Scott Parker was the game's outstanding player and West Ham deserved better than the single point that keeps them above bottom-placed Portsmouth.
As for Carlo Ancelotti, his team had a great chance to stretch their lead over Manchester United in second place to six points and they blew it. The Chelsea manager conceded that his team had not played well but as he expressed dismay at the pile-up of Christmas fixtures, as all new Premier League managers are prone to do, he said that his team had not done badly in the circumstances.
Yet there is something not right about Chelsea who, in recent games, have lacked their characteristic power to sweep teams away. They are not in as much trouble as Liverpool or, to a lesser extent, Manchester United, but they have won just once in their last four league matches and, with a bit more about them, they could be approaching Christmas as the runaway leaders.
The club yesterday denied the News of the World's allegation that John Terry took £10,000 to show an undercover reporter around their training ground. The problems with their defence are less easy to brush aside. Ashley Cole conceded a first-half penalty and Ricardo Carvalho was extremely lucky not to have one awarded against him when he shoved Guillermo Franco in the closing stages of the game.
The challenge from Cole for the penalty was clumsy, the full-back going in two-footed on Jack Collison and getting nowhere near the ball. Alessandro Diamanti has scored penalties against Liverpool and Arsenal at Upton Park already this season and he beat Petr Cech comfortably.
There was just the slightest suspicion that West Ham had got lucky in the last minute of the first half when Green clattered Salomon Kalou after the Chelsea striker had got to the ball first and, admittedly, knocked it too far ahead of himself. But Chelsea were more than compensated with a wholly undeserved penalty just before the hour. It came from a tackle by Upson on the Chelsea substitute Daniel Sturridge which was just about as good a challenge as you will see this season. The England centre-half took the ball cleanly, and Sturridge fell as his momentum carried him through. Badly advised by his linesman, Dean gave the penalty.
It was then that the fun really began. Lampard had to wait a while to take the penalty as the West Ham players protested Dean's decision. When he did, he struck it to the side that Green dived – his right – but it was too hard and too well-placed in the corner for the goalkeeper. Dean stopped Lampard in mid-celebration to insist he take it again.
The first time it was Didier Drogba who encroached in the area along with about five West Ham players, but it was pretty remarkable that, having been warned once, Michael Ballack did it on the second occasion. Lampard struck his second penalty to Green's left but by now Dean had become militant.
Incredibly, he called upon Lampard to take the penalty again, this time it seemed because Sturridge had wandered into the area. At this point a lesser player might have railed against the referee for being forced to observe a law that is largely ignored these days. But Lampard is rather better than that. He struck his third – and final – penalty to Green's left and at last Dean was satisfied.
Among Premier League referees, Dean has given almost twice as many penalties, 23, over the last two seasons as the next on the list, Phil Dowd, on 13. What made it all the more unusual was that he did not reward Franco for the challenge from Carvalho with nine minutes of the match left. Even under the scrutiny of the rigorous Mr Dean, yet another penalty might just have been too much excitement for one afternoon.
West Ham United (4-5-1): Green; Faubert, Gabbidon (Tomkins, 19), Upson, Ilunga; Collison, Parker, Kovac, Noble, Diamanti; Franco. Substitutes not used: Stech (gk), Jimenez, Spector, Da Costa, Nouble, Stanislas.
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Iavnovic, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; Ballack; Lampard, J Cole (Zhirkov, 75), Malouda (Mikel, h-t); Drogba, Kalou (Sturridge, h-t). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ferreira, Alex, Belletti.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Chelsea Carvalho, A Cole, Terry; West Ham Franco, Parker, Upson.
Man of the match: Parker.
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