McLeish toasts Foster as Chelsea problems mount

Birmingham City 1 Chelsea

Phil Shaw
Sunday 21 November 2010 01:00

Chelsea's blip is in danger of becoming a full-blown slump. The champions' standard still flutters on the Premier League summit, but it is looking increasingly ragged after Birmingham, third from bottom at kick-off, emulated Sunderland's win over them. Lee Bowyer converted their only scoring chance early on before they mounted a rearguard action in whichBen Foster answered criticsof his performance forEngland in midweek.

Foster's brilliance was largely responsible for Chelsea's failure to score for the fifth time in nine League fixtures – after the previous eight had delivered 38 goals – yet there was a desperation about Carlo Ancelotti's side from around the hour mark. They have now lost successive League games for the first time since May 2006, and three of the past four, while their schedule over the next month pits them against Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Chelsea finished the contest with Petr Cech marauding in the Birmingham 18-yard area. Their overwhelming territorial dominance led Ancelotti to claim it was not as worrying a setback as last weekend's; it was just that fortune had not favoured them.

"We didn't win because I think we were unlucky," the Chelsea manager said. "We played good football and had lots of chances, but we lost. As a performance, everything was ok. We just had one mistake when we lost a player [Bowyer] who ran into the box."

The announcement that Ray Wilkins, Ancelotti's former assistant, intends to take action for unfair dismissal did not, according to the Italian, "affect this moment". The injured John Terry and Frank Lampard were again absent, with Ancelotti adding: "We want them back, though we didn't miss them today because we didn't deserve to lose."

Alex McLeish was quick to praise Foster. "The criticism of him after the France match was harsh," the Birmingham manager said. "A goalkeeper can win you championships and keep you in a division and today he carried on the great, solid work he's done for us. We had to defend really stoutly, and we had a wee bit of luck, and there have been games we've deserved to win where we haven't."

Ancelotti was joined on the bench by Michael Emenalo, who has replaced Wilkins, and as if to honour the Nigerian Chelsea sported a lime-green strip similar to the Super Eagles' shirt. There was an African flavour to their initial ascendancy, too, one fine move seeing Salomon Kalou send his fellow Ivorian Didier Drogbain for a shot which theadvancing Foster saved.

Birmingham exposed Chelsea's soft centre with a 17th-minute goal against the run of play. Sebastian Larsson crossed for Cameron Jerome to outjump Paulo Ferreira and nod the ball into the path of Bowyer, who side-footed his first goal of the season.

This was the cue for a 73-minute siege, but after a chastening night at Wembley against France, Foster was defiance personified. Following a cross by Nicolas Anelka midway through the opening half, his diving, one-handed save from Drogba's sharp, downward header was brilliant.

The first half turned into a personal duel between Foster and Drogba and when the striker did beat him, with a glancing header from Florent Malouda's cross, the ball slapped the bar. In the second half, another fine save kept out a Branislav Ivanovic header.

Birmingham's resistance verged on illegality when Roger Johnson appeared to bring down Ramires as he surged into the box. The referee, Mark Halsey, ruled he had taken a bit of the ball first, and the injured Johnson, who needs to lose a limb before he will consider coming off, received treatment before resuming his place and using his aerial strength to keep Drogba and his cohorts at bay.

Attendance: 24,357

Referee: Mark Halsey

Man of the match: Foster

Match rating: 6/10

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