Chelsea crush not so hot Spurs
Hands up. I called Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final totally wrong, possibly influenced by the last time I saw an awful Liverpool at Wembley, when they were very lucky to beat Cardiff City in the Carling Cup final. After the first half-hour, the game was Everton’s to throw away and that they did was their only success on the day.
Yesterday, I made no predictions as both Chelsea and Spurs have stuttered in their attempts to make the all-important Champions League place a reality. Both sides have underwhelmed, particularly towards the last quarter of the season as questions arose over the manager.
Spurs kept theirs, as Harry Rednapp refused to commit to the England job, and Chelsea lost theirs as Roman Abramovich realised it was over six months since he last changed a manager. Either the pool of top coaches willing to drink from the poisoned chalice is running dry or the Russian thought he would try a new tactic by simply letting the No.2 have a go.
Roberto Di Matteo has since steadied the blue boat although whether he will be trusted in the longer term, to oversee the transition of replacing the old guard and important backbone of the team, remains to be seen. In the build-up to this match, neither manager had bothered to make the usual tactical boasts a la Fergie – Harry, in particular, probably realising that a Wembley game is the microcosm of a season in one afternoon and what will be will be.
I get parked using the useful Parkatmyhouse.com and walk the crowded but uncommonly quiet Royal Route. Maybe, with blue and white being the common denominator of both clubs, neither set of supporters know who to abuse! My instructions are to collect tickets from Club Wembley and, as there are a number of entrances, there is some confusion before I enter the stadium via an escalator with accompanying soundtrack of soft jazz. Oh, we are such a long way from the old stadium stairwells of beer cans, piss smells and underlying violence. I miss it.
Apart from the name, Club Wembley could be the departure lounge of a small airport. There are various bars and food outlets and club “colours” are not allowed. The place is busy but it’s hard to detect the atmosphere of nervous anticipation that is the hallmark of a semi-final. I settle for a Guinness (£5!), accompanied by a jazz combo, and reflect on the stadium’s current art exhibition by Ben Mosley – “a passion for capturing the emotion and spirit … of art, football and sport”. The football zeitgeist has thus been distilled and hung on the walls and I feel old but very lucky to have been around in a pre-corporate world.
My seat is in the middle tier at a corner amid Wags and present and former soccer luminaries. I sit behind Stuart Pearce and his lads and spot Darren Anderton sitting next to Dennis Wise. The teams appear and eventually settle around the centre circle for the minute’s silence to commemorate the Hillsborough victims. I have written recently on the dilution of emotion regarding such commemorations but all football fans appreciate the enormity of this particular tragedy.
It is a time to forget tribalism and think instead of the greater football family, to reflect that it could have been any of us losing our friends, family or our lives on that day. I am expecting total silence but, along with the majority, I am horrified to hear a section of the Chelsea crowd noisily disrespecting the moment and bringing the tribute to an early end. These few insensitive morons are roundly booed by the Spurs supporters and vast majority of their own fans. Sadly, anyone who is thick enough to find this behaviour funny is also too stupid to regret it. Shame on them.
I don’t remember ever seeing a classic game between these teams and the cagey, slow first half-hour was about par for the course. Spurs had trouble playing wide and although forced to play through the middle, had the better start, with only John Terry’s knee preventing an opener on 36 minutes. Minutes later Rafael van der Vaart’s inswinging cross left Petr Cech watching as it hit his post.
Spurs were edging it although Luka Modric was curiously anonymous and failing to make his usual signature probing runs. Two minutes before half time and slightly against the run of play, a long ball lands at Didier Drogba’s feet. With back to goal and with William Gallas in tight attendance, the striker swivelled to hammer a wonderful shot past Carlo Cudicini.
Three minutes into the second half came a highly controversial second Chelsea goal as a huge goalmouth scramble ended with David Luiz’s header falling at the feet of Juan Mata, whose shot appeared to rebound off Ledley King on the line. I immediately looked toward the linesman, who was running back from the goal with flag down, and was astounded to see the ref signal a goal.
Cue referee Martin Atkinson surrounded by Spurs players but arrogantly refusing to consult the lino. And the goal stood. I was at the opposite end off the ground but immediately had a text from a TV-watching friend – “Didn’t cross the line, disgraceful!!”. Well, it wouldn’t be a “proper” game without controversy and the endless “goalline technology” debate that will no doubt ensue.
To their credit, six minutes later, Tottenham were back in it when Scott Parker’s beautiful through ball found Emmanuel Adebayor, who was fouled by Cech and Luiz. Atkinson somewhat redeemed himself by allowing play to continue as the ball broke for Gareth Bale to tap home.
The tempo of the game increased, with Terry having a header cleared off the Spurs goalline and King heading wide from a corner at the other end. With the Tottenham renaissance fading and 15 minutes to go, Redknapp replaced van der Vaart with Jermain Defoe but Spurs were looking jaded and tired and, perhaps sensing this, Chelsea pushed forward.
Minutes later, Spurs visibly deflated as a long ball found Ramires and he deftly lifted the ball over Cudicini for a killer third. The writing on the wall was finally signed off with the perfect free kick struck by Frank Lampard from 30 yards – cue the Spurs faithful leaving one half of the ground a surging blue and the other a forlorn red of empty seats.
I note that Wise and Anderton have shown little emotion throughout the game, neither celebrating the goals, and Pearce has left. By now, the Hotspurs were also looking for the exits and, as Fernando Torres was given a run out for the remaining five minutes, their humiliation was complete as substitute Florent Malouda scored Chelsea’s fifth well into injury time. A goalfest but hardly a classic. Maybe it has resolved the future of both managers but I was left wondering if Harry may be having second thoughts about the England job now that he has first-hand experience of a thrashing at Wembley!
Much like leaving a cinema, I depart the ground via the escalator, with Wembley staff thanking me for attending. Before I ceremoniously place The Secret Footballer sticker, I pass an enterprising vendor selling Arsenal toilet rolls. If they had been blue and white, he may have had a few more takers.