Close, But No Cigars
Date: Tuesday 14th April 2009
If ever the indicators leading up to a game favoured a home win, then this was it. Chelsea, revitalised under Guus Hiddink, had the confidence of dismantling Liverpool midweek, so they could field their better players in this game. Drogba was on form, Lampard was on form, Ballack was on form, the defence wasn't conceding goals, Bolton had not taken a point from any top six side all season and in most of these games struggled to make it into a contest.
On the train on my way to the game, I observed two guys in different replica shirts sat opposite me. I wondered to myself who would see their team score the most, and I actually bet against the Chelsea supporter, the London Irish supporter being slight favourite, though it was close. BWFC optimism was in short supply.
So a pre match pint later I took my seat with the other 800 or so Bolton supporters, and waited for the massacre to develop. Bolton started the game well wih Taylor forcing Cech into a decent save before the first minute was complete, and for the first twenty minutes continued to be the better side with Taylor again going closest with a looping header following a swift breakaway led by Gardner. The Bolton fans were in good voice and humour, the Chelsea fans with the exception of one small child were silent (you've only got one fan the wags in the Bolton end chanted) as pass after pass went astray. What was all the pesimissm about?
As the half wore on Chelsea began to dominate possession without looking like penetrating our defence, until that is five minutes before half time when Shittu powerfully headed out a long crossfield ball straight to Ballack who exchanged passes with Kalou and finished emphatically from an unmarked position eight yards out. It was a simple, clinical goal, and not for the first away game this season, we had gone 1-0 down without seeming to look in any trouble.
Half time came and despite being behind it wasn't stretching the bounds of possibility that we could get back into the game, as we had looked competitive enough in the first half. All such hopes were soon dashed however, and within 17 minutes of the re-start we were 4-0 down. First Drogba turned in Lampard's clever free kick, then as Chelsea started to enjoy themselves, Peter Walton decided that Steinsson had deliberately handled Lampard's first time cross, despite being three yards away with his hand almost behind his back. It was a ridiculous decision that had seemed to end the game as a contest, and Drogba's fourth merely confirmed this. It was now damage limitation for the Whites, although the scoreline appeared harsh.
A deserved consolation goal came with 20 minutes to go, O'Brien bundling the ball in, and then on Bolton produced a superb passing move involving most of the team, with Basham, who had replaced the ineffective Elmander, producing an excellent incisive pass to free Steinsson who crossed to the far post, and the young gun arrived on the end of Davies's header across goal to make it 4-2. The quality of that goal will not be appreciated by the top four obsessed media, but there must have been 12-15 passes without Chelsea touching the ball before the final touch was applied. There was still 16 minutes left, and if nothing else the scoreline was a fairer reflection of the game. Then amazingly just four minutes later Taylor headed in another Davies set up, and it was 4-3 and game on. Chelsea had by now taken off Lampard and Drogba, as well as their foot off the gas, and we were on top and threatening. The Chelsea fans were worried, Bolton fans vocal, and when Gardner picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and made space for a shot, it looked like the most amazing comeback in Premier League if not football history was complete. His shot was just too high, but the Whites were now dominating, and an equaliser looked a real possiblity. Anelka nearly made the game safe from a defensive mix up, but as four minutes of injury time was announced Bolton, with Cahill up front as an extra striker, were vibrant. Steinsson put another effort wide and then with seconds left Taylor headed Basham's deep corner back across goal, and the loose ball fell to Cahill six yards out. There it was - 4-4 - or so it seemed, but no, a stray Chelsea boot deflected his shot just wide. Every away fan had their head in their hands, and every disbelieving home fan was relieved. It was to be the final chance of an amazing game.
No doubt Meggo will reflect on the defensive frailty that allowed Chelsea to score four without hitting top form (we certainly seem to lack some authority in defence and defensive midfield), and Elmander continues to be a concern, as he looked more ineffective as the game went on. He must also reflect on the influence young Basham had on the game. Playing in front of Muamba, alongside McCann, he looked a quaity midfielder, passing well, and tackling effectively. He deserves a start next time out based on this cameo.
Chelsea fans politely applauded their team off, but the BWFC fans chanted "We are the one and only Wanderers" on top note as Taylor, Steinsson and Muamba showed their appreciation by throwing their shirts into the away crowd. Never has a loss been so enthusiastically cheered, never have I personally felt so uplifted seeing my team lose and hopefully the team can take their courage, bravery and eventually lethal finishing forward for the rest of the season.