Avram Grant, take a bow. The lugubrious Israeli does not do exultation, at least not in public, but his Chelsea team indulged in plenty of cavorting on his behalf, carving apart West Ham despite the first-half dismissal of Frank Lampard. After the miseries of last Sunday's Carling Cup final, it was a bounce-back of boomerang proportions.
There had been confident pre-match talk from West Ham sources about deepening Chelsea's unhappiness but in the end it was simply another Hammer horror show to add to Chelsea's impressive statistics against them: six wins in a row now, 17 scored and three conceded. Three goals had been clocked up by the 22nd minute, and a possible fourth by Nicolas Anelka in the first 25 seconds ruled out for offside, before West Ham keeper Robert Green actually managed to save a shot. And, even against 10 men, there was no way back from that for the home side.
Despite the shot and shell following his team selections for Wembley, Grant stuck his head above the parapet again and made six changes for this game. Didier Drogba never got off the bench, Michael Essien only came on late, Joe and Ashley Cole, Salomon Kalou and Michael Ballack were on from the start this time and Anelka, entrusted with the front running after last week's nightmare, was a constant threat. It all worked a treat. As ever, Grant was close-mouthed about the reasons for his selections. "I give respect to all in the squad" was how he put it.
The West Ham manager Alan Curbishley said it all: "They've put themselves back in the race, shown everybody it was a one-off last week. They have a massively strong, talented squad." The irony was that West Ham found themselves three down despite having had more of the game.
After Anelka's offside, they might have had three themselves. Carlton Cole was halted in the act of pulling the trigger by a well-timed Ricardo Carvalho tackle, Petr Cech twice dived to thwart Fredrik Ljungberg dashes and the keeper pulled off a blinding save from Mark Noble.
At the other end, everything went in. Anton Ferdinand precipitated the collapse by fouling Kalou as he surged past. "It was a poor penalty to give away," said Curbishley. "Anton got it wrong." Lampard, resoundingly booed as a former West Ham employee, tucked it away. Three minutes later there was more to boo about as another former Hammer, Joe Cole, collected Anelka's short pass to fire left-footed into the corner.
It became three goals in five minutes when Lampard rolled the ball invitingly across the edge of the penalty area and Ballack brilliantly accepted the invitation with a half-volley.
In the 34th minute came the sending-off incident. Luis Boa Morte was adjudged to have fouled Lampard and as the pair climbed back to their feet on the fringe of the Chelsea penalty zone Lampard pushed his opponent in the chest with both hands. When his attention was drawn to this by a linesman, referee Peter Walton sparked the loudest home cheer of the afternoon by flourishing the red card.
Grant tartly observed that it was the second game in succession that the referee had needed an assistant's intervention to give a decision against his team, but once more Curbishley spoke more eloquently for the brotherhood of managership: "With things like that, you think common sense might prevail." At half-time West Ham opted for the thunderball approach, replacing Boa Morte with Dean Ashton. They deserved a goal, and would have had one but for John Terry's acrobatics. Carlton Cole's lob evaded Cech's outstretched arms but the Chelsea captain's overhead kick on the goalline denied them.
While that miss was being mourned, Kalou slipped Joe Cole clear and though Green turned the shot aside it was straight to the other Cole, Ashley, who netted from a sharp angle. The dismayed home fans would have agreed with Curbishley's summation: "We got it wrong today."
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