Saturday, February 20, 2010

Room at the top in football

For a brief period in each half it looked as if Chelsea might stumble as badly as Manchester United had done earlier in the day on Merseyside. Wolves nudged and then pushed them, huffing and puffing all the while, but the leaders remained on their feet and once Didier Drogba scored his second goal midway through the second half they were able to stroll. Celebrations at the finish to mark a four-point lead at the top of the table could even have been described as a London knees-up, except that no fewer than five players were missing with knee injuries, as well as Frank Lampard – a rare absentee – and Ashley Cole. So it was a demonstration of depth of squad, something that Wolves cannot hope to match in their first season back in the big league.Chelsea were even able to rest Ricardo Carvalho, who should return against Internazionale on Wednesday, and bring back a man we must now refer to as a former England captain; John Terry's return after some quality time with the family in a Dubai swimming pool was greeted with much predictable ribaldry from the home crowd, to which he responded with a generally solid performance, twice clearing off the line.Wolves supporters have to make their own entertainment, for their team are the League's lowest scorers at home. Kevin Doyle worked hard as a lone striker, but sitting opposite the Steve Bull Stand prompted thoughts of what Mick McCarthy would give for a scorer of Bull's quality – if he had the funds. The extra midfield personnel deployed behind Doyle did surprisingly well for over an hour against the seasoned internationals they were up against before class, as it tends to, began to tell. McCarthy's satisfaction at the performance was diluted by his annoyance at the way that second goal was conceded to a goalkeeper's punt down the middle of the pitch. "We should have got something out of the game," he said. "Chelsea are the champions-elect and we've matched them. We let them off the hook. We were on top and gave them a goal to a really bad, bad piece of defending. It was dire and it demoralised us all so much." It was true that while Petr Cech could reasonably claim the individual honours ahead of Drogba, Marcus Hahnemann in Wolves' goal had little to do other than pick the ball from his net twice; until half-time his team's efforts were far more threatening than the leaders'. Doyle's doughty run from the touchline to the far side of the penalty area before shooting at Cech typified their endeavour. He then set up Kevin Foley for a shot into the side-netting and saw Cech push his effort for a corner when Foley returned the compliment. Matt Jarvis had a low shot held and David Jones's free-kick did not quite swing sufficiently. Amid all this, Michael Ballack's volley over the bar was the one uncomfortable moment, so it was all the more cruel that Chelsea should take the lead five minutes before half-time. In a move that flowed all the way from the back, Yuri Zhirkov was involved twice, swapping passes with Ballack and then crossing low to the far post, where Drogba forced himself ahead of Stephen Ward to jab in his 24th goal.A 25th would follow, though not until after the home side's most convincing spell of the game, in which Adlene Guedioura, on loan from Charleroi, was denied by Cech's fine save and Terry redeemed himself following a miskick by hacking clear, after Cech did well again to beat out Foley's shot. Soon afterwards, more cruelty as Cech became goalmaker. His huge kick downfield caught out Christophe Berra and Drogba was able to run away from him and dribble round to decide the match.



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