An ode to World Cup 2002 – The making of a football fan

Football came to me fairly late in my formative years, or rather, I came to football fairly late.

As the 21st century blossomed into life my six year old self knew of but one sport, rugby, and of but one star, Todd Blackadder. Football, or ‘soccer’ as the game was more commonly referred to in the confines of rural New Zealand, was completely alien to me.

Bereft of a father beholden to a particular club and separated from football’s European mainland by half a planet it would take a stroke of good fortune to broaden my sporting horizons and become acquainted with the game that would go on to form the basis of a lifelong addiction.

As luck would have it I did not have to wait long.

In the late nineties my uncle’s O.E. (that’s ‘overseas experience’, for any non-Antipodean readers) had seen him traipsing around the UK. In spite of his affection for the form of football commonly on display at Twickenham time spent living in London would lead to an appreciation for an altogether more beautiful sport.

It was hard not to fall in love with Chelsea in those days, the silky sides of Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli boasted some of the most exciting and gifted players to ever grace the Premiership: Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo, Frank Leboeuf et al., and in short order my uncle was hooked.

Upon his return to New Zealand, aside from my general excitement at seeing a relative I had not set eyes upon in years, I quickly became enamoured with the two gifts he had brought back with him from Stamford Bridge for me.

The first item, a pristine blue Umbro shirt bearing the name ‘Wise’ and the number 11, was my first point of contact with the game I would soon grow to love. The second, a VHS tape with the rather unassuming title ‘The Official Review Of The Season 1998/99′, was to be my gateway into the world of Chelsea.

Fast-forward two years and my fledgling football career had taken flight. Whilst I lacked the grace and panache to emulate my VHS favourites (and a two goal haul in a single match early on was to prove an aberration) in seasons to come I would go on to forge a fairly successful role for myself at right back (alas, Dan Petrescu had little to fear from this particular understudy).

I had nearly worn out my season review tape and as a result could name scores of SW6 stars but aside from the odd piece on David Beckham’s exploits at Manchester United the club game barely merited a mention in the rugby-centric New Zealand media.

Football was no longer alien to me, indeed it had long since surpassed rugby in my estimation, but a lack of local media coverage meant that the sport was still shrouded behind a curtain of intrigue.

That curtain, thankfully, was about to be torn down.

As the 2002 World Cup loomed on the horizon an enthusiastic primary school teacher managed to mould me from fair-weather to fanatic over the course of a mere month. A Karate black belt with a keen interest in all things Asia we were primed not just on the upcoming tournament to be held in Japan and Korea but on the very Japanese language itself.

The teacher soon arranged for us to draw names out of a hat so that we could all be assigned a team to follow at random (he cherry-picked Japan for himself, naturally enough, but the other 31 countries were all up for grabs).

We were regaled with tales of the great footballing nations: the powerful defending champions in the form of France, the talented Portuguese side built around Luis Figo and the Argentinian team spearheaded by Gabriel Batistuta. I was thus overcome with a sense of disappointment when I plucked the unfancied USA from the hat.

Despite having serious misgivings about my new team, whose last outing at a World Cup had proven disastrous, I quickly put those thoughts to one side and set about creating a poster along with the rest of the class. Sheets of A2, red and blue crayons, the stars and stripes upon a green pitch; the end result was not fit to grace the Louvre but I was pleased to see it strung up along the classroom ceiling.

Armed with the ubiquitous newspaper results chart I was ready to follow the tournament as it rumbled into being.

The USA had a tough group to contend with, pitted against co-hosts South Korea, joint favourites Portugal and dark horses Poland. The stage was set, I hoped, for a graceful exit with at least one draw and a smattering of goals. For a team that returned home from France 98 with its tail between its legs, scoring only a solitary goal and losing all of its matches, I reasoned that this would be an improvement.

Poland fell to South Korea in the opening match of the group, par for the course as the home side made a strong start, but the next result was to send shock waves throughout the football world. Not only did the USA manage to rack up a smattering of goals, they held Portugal at bay to record a 3-2 victory. Qualification to the knockout stages was now a real possibility and with the toughest test on paper behind them the US could afford to feel a bit confident heading into their second match against South Korea.

Elsewhere in the tournament, France’s hopes of defending their crown had been shattered after their opening game defeat at the hands of Senegal and subsequent draw with Uruguay. Argentina’s chances of making it into the second round hung on a knife edge after their 1-0 loss against arch-enemies England. Suddenly my ‘choice’ of team was not looking quite so unfortunate.

Team USA continued their strong showing five days later by earning a creditable draw against Guus Hiddink’s South Korea. Whilst the US were pegged back by their opponents late on following Clint Mathis’ first half strike, robbing them of the chance to seal qualification, only Poland stood between them and an unexpected spot in the knockout stages.

The Poles, meanwhile, were playing the part of Group D whipping boys as Portugal rebounded from their defeat with a 4-0 romp. The scoreline did not flatter the Portuguese but Pedro Pauleta’s hat-trick had merely given them a chance to advance, they still required a victory over South Korea in their final group game.

For the US the situation was simple, a win against Poland would seal their progress: drop points and it would all be down to whether or not South Korea could defy the odds. Buoyed by the apparent brilliance of ‘my’ team I was determined to follow proceedings live on television.

My first experience of live sport from another corner of the globe had taken place during the previous year when I was awoken in the small hours of the night to watch the great racemare Sunline and her ultimately unsuccessful attempt at winning a Group One race in Dubai. Ushered into bed afterwards a dejected wee soul I was nevertheless taken in by the whole experience. I subsequently petitioned for permission to wake up and watch entire Formula 1 Grand Prix and was eventually granted the privilege on the condition that it would not affect my school work. Naturally at that age I could in practice only manage and hour or so of watching the fortnightly Schumacher procession before falling asleep.

I was disappointed to learn that the Poland-USA fixture would not be screening live (ah, the joys of New Zealand television!), I would have to be content with Portugal-South Korea but I set out to watch my first live football match regardless.

A tap on the shoulder awoke me from my slumber, ‘the game is starting.’ I bolted out into the lounge, dove into a hastily assembled makeshift bed and took stock of the scene unfolding before my eyes: the crowd a sea of red, a giant South Korean flag unfurled in the stands, Portugal looking stern and assured in their deep crimson and green kits, South Korea resplendent in their crisp white jerseys. ‘If this is international football,’ I thought, ‘I rather like it.’

Within minutes of the opening whistle the commentator relayed news of an early goal by Poland’s Emmanuel Olisadebe in the adjacent Group D fixture. Two minutes later news of another Polish strike filtered through, and suddenly my rosy picture of the USA’s hopes had become decidedly murky. As things stood the Portuguese were a draw away from advancing thanks to their superior goal difference.

South Korea looked the more adventurous side as the game progressed but they could not find an early breakthrough as their shots on goal continually went awry. Portugal’s players were seemingly intent on hacking down the nimble and flight-footed Koreans at every opportunity, a portent of what was soon to transpire.

The turning point came in the 25th minute when Portugal’s Joao Pinto was shown a straight red card for his cynical (and, quite frankly, dangerous) tackle on Park Ji-Sung from behind. Down to ten men, Portugal’s backs were now firmly against the wall in the face of the high tempo Korean attack.

Controversy soon followed as a South Korean set piece goal was ruled out for interference. JC Choi rose majestically into the air to meet a Park Ji-Sung corner but he was deemed to have impeded Portugal keeper Vitor Baía’s movement as the Porto shot stopper spilled the ball into the path of Ahn Jung-Hwan who promptly bungled it into the back of the net.

Portugal looked relieved to go in level at the break but there was to be no reprieve as Korea came flying out of the blocks when the second half got under way. Chance after chance was created, Portugal breaking on the counter now and again, but despite a draw suiting both teams on paper Korea looked markedly more interested in trying to force a result.

The US were doomed, I was certain of it. They had let me down. Then, Park Ji Sung stepped up in the 70th minute and scored one of the most beautiful goals I have ever seen in all of football. A cross came in on the edge of the box and he controlled it on his chest, took a touch in mid-air to redirect the ball and slide past his marker before firing it home through the keepers legs with his left foot and sending me into an excited leap.

South Korea had done it, they were beating Portugal. They only needed a draw but the goal made the USA’s shellacking at the hands of Poland irrelevant. Fifteen minutes later the commentator had the good grace to inform me of a Landon Donovan goal in the USA match – immaterial, but nice all the same.

That night was a pivotal one in my young life: I was suddenly hooked on football. I had caught ‘the bug’, as it were. Guus Hiddink was my new idol. Watching nightly news reports of the World Cup action, filling out my results chart every morning, hoarding newspaper clippings and bragging with classmates about the success of our respective teams – I had of course been obsessed with my Chelsea VHS tape for months but the sport had become a living, breathing, live entity.

The USA’s World Cup run would continue right through to the quarter finals, beating arch rivals Mexico to get there. Next up: Germany. I sensed in my heart of hearts that the USA’s tournament was over, I had read enough in the newspapers to know that Germany, despite their struggles, would simply be too good for them. Flying in the face of my preconceptions, on the night the USA were brilliant. Landon Donovan, however, couldn’t get the better of Oliver Kahn and Michael Ballack’s goal on the verge of half-time settled the fixture. I still vividly remember the furore over the handball on the line that wasn’t spotted by Hugh Dallas and his officiating team.

South Korea’s World Cup would continue, however. I endeavoured to stay up for their quarter final against Spain but the previous night’s excitement had left me knackered. After dragging myself through the day I pleaded with my mother to wake me for the game, she managed to get me up and I sat with my eyes glued to the screen for the first 20 minutes before tiredness got the better of me and I crashed out. I awoke to the news bulletins of Korea’s victory and watched the penalty shoot-out time and time again.

Onto the semis, I had bid farewell to the US and was now firmly backing Guus Hiddink’s team – not so much in want of revenge for the USA’s sake but because of the media buzz surrounding Korea as underdogs who had made it all the way to the semi finals. In the end, though, Michael Ballack’s performance on the night quickly turned my head and my fleeting support of Korea dissipated. I cut out the newspaper clippings the next day, Ballack had lead a less-than-stellar Germany all the way to the World Cup final and he wasn’t even going to be able to play a part in it. I fell in love with the men in white and in lieu of New Zealand, who at that point I hadn’t even seen play, I set out to adopt Die Mannschaft as my de facto national team.

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In the buildup to the final I refused to take heed of the international press coverage: Brazil were the favourites, they insisted. Ronaldo was going to win the match all by himself and Germany stood no chance. What nonsense! Germany were going to win the World Cup, I just knew it, and Michael Ballack was going to lift the trophy.

My mother was reluctant to let me stay up for the final after the South Korea-Spain sleep escapade but I insisted upon being allowed to watch it live. ‘World Cup finals only come around once every four years,’ that’s the line my teacher told me to use to make her cave in. It worked.

I couldn’t be wrong, ‘my’ teams had defied the odds throughout the World Cup so surely it could happen again…

Needless to say, it didn’t happen again. My brave Germany faltered and my classmate who was lucky enough to draw Brazil out of the hat all those weeks ago celebrated a World Cup victory for his charges. I was not disheartened, however. Over the course of that month my love for football had transitioned from re-watching my Chelsea VHS tape and admiring events of the past to loving the sport as it was currently happening. A live, breathing, exciting organism.

Twelve years later I still have a great fondness for Germany, the rise of Ricki Herbert’s New Zealand has allowed me to enjoy another team’s fortunes on the international stage but I don’t have the same boyish nostalgia for the All Whites that I do for Deutschland. As Brazil 2014 approaches I find myself dreaming of a German triumph.

In the wake of the 2002 World Cup I launched myself full steam ahead into following Chelsea. All things considered it wasn’t a bad time to fall in love with the game. Regrets? Aside from the lack of sleep brought about by over a decade of early morning football watching, I haven’t got any.

Hobbies come and go, football is a way of life.

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On Ferguson, Moyes and The Party Line

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Weighing in on the situation at Manchester United seems to be all the rage at the moment so I thought I should cobble something together to express my opinion.

A part of me wants to see David Moyes stay on for years and continue to be a millstone around United’s neck but another part wants to see him sacked. That isn’t to say that I dislike him, indeed I’m quite fond of him, but the prospect of seeing United fans backtracking on all of the nonsense spouted about supporting him ‘no matter what’ and United being a ‘different’ and ‘patient’ club when it comes to managers is too tasty to resist.

A load of holier-than-thou pompous propaganda, of course (ta-ra Fergie), but I have no doubt that they sincerely believed in the mantra for a time and that will make it all the more amusing if they end up turning on their laughably incompetent board for the decision to appoint an unproven manager.

Many comparisons were made between Moyes and Ferguson when the media rolled out the red carpet for their new darling and doted on him: cut from the same cloth, two gruff Glaswegians, heirs of Shankly and Busby, etc, but the fundamental fact is that Ferguson was an infinitely more accomplished manager than Moyes when he inherited the United role in the wake of Ron Atkinson’s departure in 1986.

Ferguson cut his teeth at St. Mirren, transforming them into champions and gaining promotion by fair means and foul. Moyes’ time at Preston compares favourably with Ferguson’s St. Mirren spell but beyond that the gulf is gigantic. Ferguson’s transformation of Aberdeen was Mourinhoesque: tenacious, aggressive, meticulous. He achieved things that the club had no right to, particularly on the European stage.

The defence brought up for Moyes in this regard is that a lack of financial muscle has inhibited him from winning silverware at Everton but the simple fact is that, even in this day and age, the true managerial stars will shine through in spite of the obstacles in front of them: Ferguson broke the Celtic-Rangers duopoly in a manner that no one has managed to since; as far as obstacles go they don’t come much bigger than that.

Think Michael Laudrup, in five minutes he has achieved what Moyes failed to in over a decade. Roberto Martinez has even managed to win silverware with Wigan, of all clubs. On the strength of Ferguson’s achievements at Aberdeen he was offered the Arsenal job, Moyes’ time at Everton didn’t even warrant an offer from Tottenham.

Moyes is a good manager, of that I have no doubt. You don’t hold down a job in the Premier League for years if you are incompetent but that is not the issue at hand. Moyes is tailored for the job he had at Everton, the sum of his managerial efforts over the bulk of his career have been directed at survival, at not going the way of Leeds and Nottingham Forest.

In this regard he has succeeded, you could even say that he has thrived within a mid-table framework, but to thrust him from that environment into the biggest club in world football and expect him to succeed on the strength of his nationality, the backing of a man who has failed to produce any noteworthy managerial heirs (Bruce, Keane, Robson? In a quarter of the time Mourinho has influenced Villas-Boas, Rodgers and Clarke) and a tenuous connection to past Glaswegian greats? That, to me, reads like a recipe for disaster.

I can see a Benitez-like schism developing, the initial narrative when Moyes arrived was one of building on what Ferguson’s side had achieved in winning the Premier League last season. A title challenge, let alone a top four spot, was assumed – both went without saying. When Benitez gleefully stumbled into the Chelsea hot seat talk centred on the winning of trophies, the club was in the thick of a title challenge and a top four spot was assumed on the strength of the squad alone.

The comparison falls short when we factor in the initial discontent faced by Benitez, which Moyes hasn’t had to deal with as the section of United fans opposed to his appointment have thus far held their tongues, but I can see the situation unravelling in a similar manner if form continues on the same mediocre trajectory. United fans will split into two camps, one will wise up to the spiel trotted out by the board and see that Moyes is not cut out, or at least not yet cut out, for top-tier management. The romantics will cling on in hope, accusing the detractors of lacking faith and not towing the party line.

The orthodox will uphold the Ferguson credo, ‘stand by our new manager’, but if the prospect of Champions League football fades and the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool become unassailable a chorus of ‘ta-ra Moyesie’ may well start to emerge from the bowels of Old Trafford.

For those not of a United disposition it is an eminently attractive scenario.

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April: A Preview

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Chelsea’s defeat at the hands of Southampton has left us staring down the barrel of a last minute collapse in our push for a Champions League spot, with Spurs climbing above us and Arsenal lying in wait not far behind.

Three into two doesn’t go and unless Manchester City suffer a sharp slump in form, April is shaping up as a three-way, all London tussle for third and fourth.

The fact that our fixture list for the month is packed with cup ties puts as at a distinct disadvantage, with games coming thick and fast.

We kick things off this afternoon with the visit of Manchester United in an FA Cup replay clash. The prospect of a Wembley semi-final against Manchester City awaits the victors, and both teams will be going all out to keep their chances of a double alive.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson put his teams lacklustre second half performance at Old Trafford in the first leg down to tiredness, and both teams will be battling fatigue at the Bridge after competing in league fixtures just 48 hours earlier.

The Europa League quarter final beckons next, with the visit of Rubin Kazan for the first leg on Thursday. The Russian side currently sit fourth in their domestic league, and have beaten the likes of Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid and Levante to get to this stage of the competition.

Our first league fixture of the month sees the visit of Sunderland to Stamford Bridge. After the recent dismissal of Martin O’Neill, the Black Cats moved swiftly to appoint Paolo Di Canio into the hot seat as they attempt to stave off relegation.

The club recorded four league defeats in February but with the potential of the fabled ‘new manager bounce’ coming into play, Chelsea will be wary of taking them too lightly.

A tough away trip to Russia awaits for the second leg of our Europa League tie, with the team set to visit Moscow’s gargantuan Luzhniki stadium. The ground doesn’t hold happy memories for Chelsea fans after our Champions League final defeat there in 2008, but a failed pitch inspection at Rubin’s regular home necessitated the late change in venue.

Former Chelsea manager Andre Villas Boas returns to the Bridge with Tottenham on the 14th of April, for a match that will no doubt be a season defining one. Much has transpired since Roberto Di Matteo led us to a 4-2 victory at White Hart Lane in the early months of our league campaign, and Spurs will be desperate to strike a blow to strengthen their chances of Champions League qualification.

Another London derby is on the cards next up, with a short journey to face Fulham at Craven Cottage. Since the turn of the new year Martin Jol’s side have only suffered defeat in the league at the hands of the two Manchester clubs, and will fancy their chances against a Chelsea side they contained easily at the Bridge in our last encounter.

A visit to Anfield is next up, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side are chasing European qualification for next season but a late climb into a Champions League spot looks unlikely. The team will be desperate to finish ahead of local rivals Everton, though, so will not lack motivation as the season heads into it’s final weeks.

April wraps up with the visit of Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City. The Welsh side overcame Chelsea in a league cup double header back in January, en route to their first major domestic trophy in English football. The club are chasing a top ten finish this season, but have yet to record back to back league wins in 2013.

Key Players

Peter Cech: With our back four set to be rotated heavily this month, the constant presence of our Czech shot stopper in goal will be vital. Cech has come up with big saves lately, but our defensive struggles have seen us fail to clinch clean sheets on a regular basis. Petr’s ability and experience need to come to the fore if we’re to have any hope of achieving our targets.

Juan Mata: It is an oft repeated line, but it cannot be ignored. Without Juan Mata Chelsea struggle. More often than not, in fact, we simply don’t win. Juan’s second season at Stamford Bridge has been even more impressive than his first, and his influence will be crucial as we head into the run in.

Prediction

April is an extremely congested month on paper, and no opponent can be taken for granted. London derbies against Spurs and Fulham will test our mettle, whilst Liverpool and Swansea will also be significant hurdles to clear.

We’re currently perilously close to dropping out of the Champions League race if we take our eye off the prize, and the two cup competitions have to take a back seat for the sake of the long term health of the club.

Failure to qualify would be detrimental to our hunt for a new manager, not to mention the clubs finances.

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March: A Preview

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February ended as it began for Chelsea in the Barclays Premier League, the month book-ended by away defeats against Newcastle United and Manchester City.

The picture on the cup front was slightly rosier, with a laboured victory over Sparta Prague in Europe and a couple of wins against lower league opposition in the FA Cup, but overall it was not a happy period for manager Rafael Benitez.

After being overtaken by Tottenham Hotspur in the league and with Arsenal closing in, March is quickly shaping up to be a pivotal month in Chelsea’s top four push.

At the beginning of February we sat four points ahead of Tottenham, and eight clear of Arsenal. Spurs now hold a two point lead over us heading into their North London derby clash at the weekend, whilst Arsenal trail us by just two points.

Our superior goal difference means that should Tottenham loose or draw we’ll have a chance to climb above them, but with Gareth Bale currently enjoying a terrific run of form, most pundits are tipping them to get the better of Arsene Wenger’s team.

Our first league fixture of the month features the return of a former Chelsea stalwart to Stamford Bridge.

Steve Clarke is enjoying a fantastic début season at the helm of West Bromwich Albion, the club occupying a top four spot for several weeks early on, but a recent downturn in form has seen them slip away from the big boys.

The Baggies currently sit in seventh place, sandwiched between Merseyside outfits Everton and Liverpool, and finally ended a run of six matches without a win by beating Sunderland 2-1 last weekend.

With Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku unavailable for the match, expect to see Republic of Ireland international Shane Long leading the line on Saturday.

We’re back in the thick of things on Thursday night, with a trip to Romania to take on Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League.

Steaua upset Dutch giants Ajax in a penalty shoot-out to advance into the Round of 16, and will fancy themselves to get something out of the match at the National Arena. The perennial title contenders are currently ten points clear at the top of Liga 1, and haven’t lost at home in a domestic fixture all season.

Old Trafford beckons for an FA Cup quarter final clash next, our match against Manchester United set to enjoy top billing as the most high profile tie of the round. United are in action in Europe next week in their Champions League decider against Real Madrid; should they go through, Alex Ferguson’s side will no doubt be fired up for a push towards a potential treble.

Our last cup battle with the Red Devils was an exciting one, as Roberto Di Matteo led us to a 5-4 victory in the Capital One Cup, and with our acrimonious league encounter fresh in the memory banks the stage is set for more fireworks.

We return to Stamford Bridge for our second leg against Steaua Bucharest on the 14th of the month. If the Romanians take a leaf out of Sparta Prague’s book and put in a solid defensive display, we could be in for a tricky test.

A London derby against West Ham United is next on the cards, with Sam Allardyce’s side set to visit on the 17th.

The Hammers currently sit six points clear of the relegation zone, and after their 3-1 victory over us at the Boleyn Ground back in December, have only managed to notch up a further two Premier League wins.

After a brief pause for the international break, we round off the month with an away trip to face Southampton on the 31st.

The Saints held us to a 2-2 draw at home back in January, before ruthlessly sacking manager Nigel Adkins. New boss Mauricio Pochettino has overseen a solitary league victory thus far, and the club are just three points clear of the drop zone.

Key players

Eden Hazard: The Belgian’s Europa League heroics against Sparta Prague earned him plaudits, his late winner killing the prospect of extra time as the Czech side were finally undone by a bit of brilliance. Hazard has had a positive début season at the club, and if he can continue to assert himself and take control of matches, it will help the likes of Juan Mata and Oscar to thrive as well.

Frank Lampard: Ongoing contract situation aside, it has been business as usual for Lampard lately, the midfielder continuing to prove his worth for the club on the pitch with vital goals. As the season hits the business end, his performances will be even more crucial.

Demba Ba: Ba made a solid start to life at Chelsea with goals in both the league and the FA Cup against Southampton, but the Senegalese striker has failed to find the back of the net since. Cup-tied for the Europa League, Ba will have four opportunities to shine in March and has to make the most of them.

Prediction

March really is do or die time for Chelsea, our backs are very much against the wall and if we fail to arrest our league slump quickly we could be in big trouble come the end of the season.

All three of our league opponents are beatable, and we should be aiming to take the maximum nine points on offer.

Our headline match against Manchester United in the FA Cup will draw a lot of attention, but with Champions League qualification on the line it may well take a back seat to our Premier League campaign.

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Manchester City 2 Chelsea 0

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Chelsea’s top four hopes took a blow this afternoon, after a defeat away to Manchester City handed Tottenham a chance to climb above them in the league table.

The Blues managed to contain Mancini’s men in the first half, Petr Cech coming up with a number of big saves, but they failed to create any goal scoring opportunities of their own.

Manchester City’s quality shone through in the second half, going ahead soon after Chelsea failed to capitalise from the penalty spot, and a second goal late on dashed any hope of a comeback.

John Terry was dropped to the bench with David Luiz taking his place in central defence, whilst John Obi Mikel made his first Chelsea start since returning from international duty.

Yaya Toure looked to test Cech early on, but his shot from the edge of the box was a weak one.

Man City pushed forward in numbers, Obi Mikel was influential as he dispossessed Aguero in the final third to break down an attack.

Chelsea’s early forays were repelled by the City defence, but Mata and Lampard both looked lively on the ball.

Peter Cech came up with a vital save in the 15th minute, denying Nastasic as he parried his point blank header away from the face of goal.

Ramires found himself on the end of a forceful tackle by Jack Rodwell, referee Andre Marriner not deeming the challenge worthy of a caution.

Man City continued to stream forward, dominating possession, but steadfast defending in and around the box prevented them from getting shots on target.

Chelsea finally worked themselves back into proceedings with a nice spell in the opposition half, moving the ball quickly in an attempt to find an opening.

Sloppy defending from the home side lead to two free kick opportunities from range, but Mata’s delivery from the first was sub-par and Lampard’s shot from the second went astray.

City looked less threatening as the game progressed, but Chelsea were having to concentrate on keeping the opposition quiet and rarely had the time or space to carve out any chances themselves.

A sumptuous one-two move by Milner and Aguero lead to an opportunity for Zabaleta as half-time approached, but Gary Cahill managed to block the Argentine fullback’s shot.

Jack Rodwell had an effort from range, but Cech comfortably tipped the ball over the bar.

The Englishman was in the thick of things at the resulting corner, loosing his marker and getting a header on target, but Cech rose to the occasion once again and made the save.

Man City went into the break frustrated by Chelsea’s defending, but content with their own clear ascendancy in attack.

As the second half began, City looked to assert themselves from the get go. David Silva made a surging run down the left flank and delivered a solid cross to Sergio Aguero in the box, but the Argentine fluffed his shot.

Eden Hazard tried his luck from distance, getting a shot on target but failing to put City keeper Joe Hart under too much pressure.

Chelsea were presented with a huge opportunity after Demba Ba was adjudged to have been brought down in the box by Hart, resulting in a penalty kick.

Lampard drove the penalty hard, low and left, but Hart came up trumps with a great diving save to deny the Chelsea man his 200th goal for the club.

Jack Rodwell was removed by Roberto Mancini in the 53rd minute, striker Carlos Tevez coming on in his place.

Aguero had an opportunity to round the keeper soon after, but Gary Cahill rose to the occasion and came up with a brilliant block inside the box.

City had a lightning fast break on the hour mark, winning the ball in their own half after a Chelsea corner and looking to spring the counter. Carlos Tevez, however, dallied on the ball, allowing John Obi Mikel to break up the move.

Yaya Toure finally found the breakthrough for City in the 62nd minute. After a cut-back from David Silva he found himself free on the edge of the box, he drove forward, getting the better of Mikel and curling the ball around Cahill and Cech to put the Sky Blues ahead.

Rafael Benitez made two changes in the 67th minute, replacing Frank Lampard with Victor Moses and bringing on Oscar in place of Eden Hazard.

Chelsea’s efforts to find an equaliser were disjointed, and the home side were content to hold onto their lead.

Mikel was replaced by Fernando Torres late on, a last, desperate throw of the dice by Benitez.

Carlos Tevez fired in a second goal in the 85th minute, his scorcher of a shot
getting the better of Cech and putting the match to bed.

Sergio Aguero and David Silva were withdrawn late on, as the match entered a
four minute spell of injury time. Samir Nasri and Jolean Lescott came on
in their stead.

Chelsea pushed forward in vain as the game petered out, and the referees whistle blew to confirm the result.

After being outclassed by an opponent superior in every department, it is absolutely vital that Chelsea rebound quickly. With Tottenham now a game in hand away from going third and Arsenal looming, the margins have just gotten a whole lot tighter.

Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Cole, Ramires, Mikel (Torres 80), Lampard (Moses 67), Hazard (Oscar 67), Mata, Ba
Unused Substitutes: Turnbull, Terry, Azpilicueta, Bertrand

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Chelsea 4 Brentford 0

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Chelsea clinched an important victory over Brentford in the fourth round of the FA Cup today, taking care of business in the Stamford Bridge replay.

A lacklustre first half display bereft of a cutting edge in the final third left a lot to be desired, but a flurry of second half goals prevented the visitors from claiming a massive scalp.

Victor Moses returned from international duty with Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations, whilst John Terry was also deemed fit to start.

Demba Ba was selected up front, a face mask protecting his recently broken nose from further damage.

Oscar served up Chelsea’s first shot of the match from a long way out, Bees keeper Simon Moore dealing with it comfortably.

David Luiz showed off his defensive acumen, wrestling the ball from Clayton Donaldson to prevent a Brentford counter attack from developing.

Adam Forshaw had an effort on goal from the edge of the box after being allowed the space to roam, but it didn’t trouble Petr Cech.

Moses earned a somewhat fortunate free kick early on down the right flank. Mata delivered the set piece from the by-line, but Branislav Ivanovic couldn’t get his header from the far post on target.

Dissent was audible from the stands, the home crowd airing their views on Chelsea’s interim manager with owner Roman Abramovich in attendance.

The Blues’ first corner of the match came to nothing, Ivanovic failing to connect with the delivery and Ba skying a second effort after a cross on the edge of the box from Oscar.

Chelsea squandered another opportunity in the 17th minute, Moses made a surging run into the box from the right wing and delivered the ball into the path of Lampard, who couldn’t get a shot away as he appeared to trip up.

The Blues continued to dominate possession. A rare foray forward from the away side broke down, a long range effort by Forshaw being deflected by a Brentford team-mate inside the box.

Oscar combined with the roaming Mata as Chelsea attacked down the right, the Spaniard delivered a good ball into the box but Ba failed to get onto the end of it.

Oscar soon had a chance to put Chelsea ahead, a fluid attacking move lead to an opportunity to round the keeper, but the Brazilian hit the post as he was closed down rapidly.

Brentford pushed forward through Donaldson, Forshaw had another effort from long range but it fizzled past the post.

David Luiz looked calm and composed in midfield, using his strength and presence to push Brentford players off the ball and break down their play.

Ashley Cole won a dubious free kick on the edge of the penalty box, but Lampard’s delivery was suspect, loosing his footing in the process and sending the ball straight into the path of Donaldson.

Brentford put the ball into the back of the net on the counter, but the referee pulled the play back after Luiz barrelled into Forshaw. The resulting free kick from the edge of the box came to nothing, the five-man wall doing it’s job for Chelsea.

As half time beckoned, a late chance fell to the feet of Frank Lampard inside the box after an Ivanovic cross, but he failed to connect properly and his shot was wayward.

Donaldson burst down the left for Brentford, squaring the ball to Tom Adeyemi who failed to muster a good effort, his shot going well wide.

Chelsea ended the half frustrated, a first half of dominance in terms of possession was mired by a lack of clear cut scoring opportunities. Brentford’s occasional attacks looked about as threatening as anything the Blues could produce.

Rafael Benitez held back from making any changes as the second half kicked off.

David Luiz won an early Chelsea corner in the 47th minute, Bees keeper Simon Moore getting a punch to Mata’s delivery. Oscar got on the end of the rebound and fired a cross into the box, Moore pushing the ball out of the path of Demba Ba to stave off further pressure.

Victor Moses earned another corner for the Blues after a dazzling run down the right flank, but Brentford continued to defend valiantly to deny their Premiership opponents.

Juan Mata finally found a way through in the 53rd minute, notching up his first FA Cup goal of the season. His low shot from the edge of the box got the better of Simon Moore, the ball flying into the right-hand corner of the net.

Brentford manager Uwe Rosler made the first substitution of the game, replacing Marcello Trotta with Harry Forrester.

A poor through ball from Donaldson prevented the Bees from crafting out a chance, as they pushed forward in search of an equaliser.

Eden Hazard was introduced to the game in the 64th minute, replacing the lively looking Victor Moses.

Chelsea scored a second goal in the 67th minute, a sublime back heel from Oscar getting the better of three Brentford defenders inside the box.

Frank Lampard fired home a third in the 70th minute, Juan Mata loosing his man on the left flank and cutting inside to deliver a cross that fell perfectly at the feet of Chelsea’s number 8.

Rafael Benitez brought off Mata and replaced him with Yossi Benayoun in the 75th minute, the decision eliciting boos from some sections of the Stamford Bridge support.

Adam Forshaw, Brentford’s most dangerous player in the first half, was replaced by Sam Saunders soon after.

Frank Lampard earned a standing ovation as he was replaced by Ryan Bertrand in the 80th minute, and John Terry soon nodded home an Oscar cross to put Chelsea ahead by four.

David Luiz picked up a yellow card after barging into Jake Reeves, dazing the Brentford man and forcing him to leave the pitch as a precaution.

Cahill had a chance at the death, but comical defending on the deck by Jonathan Douglas prevented him from getting on the score-sheet.

A solid win in the end for Chelsea, who seal their progression to the fifth round where a trip to face Tony Mowbray’s Middlesborough awaits.

Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole, Luiz, Lampard (Bertrand 80), Moses (Hazard 64), Oscar, Mata (Benayoun 75), Ba
Unused Substitutes: Turnbull, Azpilicueta, Ramires, Torres
Scorers: Mata (53), Oscar (67), Lampard (70), Terry (80)

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Newcastle United 3 Chelsea 2

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Chelsea slumped to an away defeat at Newcastle United today, as Demba Ba’s return to his old club was marred by injury.

Jonas Gutierrez headed the Magpies ahead late on in the first half after some lacklustre defending by Chelsea, and two brilliant second half goals from Frank Lampard and Juan Mata were not enough to earn the Blues a win.

Demba Ba started up front on his return to St James’ Park, and John Terry made his first league appearance since early November.

Ryan Bertrand’s run in the side continued, starting on the left flank in place of the suspended Eden Hazard, and Petr Cech returned to the starting line-up.

Newcastle started brightly, preventing Chelsea from imposing themselves early on. Davide Santon had a long range effort on goal but Petr Cech saved it easily.

Chelsea had to wait until the 9th minute for a decent spell on the ball, and the Magpies continued to make life tough for the Blues. Demba Ba’s first touch was greeted by a chorus of boos from the home crowd.

Ashley Cole created Chelsea’s first chance of the game, Juan Mata picking him out with a lofted ball as he made a run into the box before cutting the ball back into the path of Frank Lampard, who shot tamely over the bar.

Newcastle began to sit deeper and stand off, allowing Chelsea to work their way into the game.

Oscar had an effort from range in the 18th minute, but didn’t trouble Toon keeper Tim Krul as he blasted the ball high.

Papiss Cisse soon tested Cech from the edge of the box, the linesman failing to spot an obvious offside run from the Senegalese striker.

Newcastle had a solid spell of possession in the final third, but their efforts came to nothing as Santon shot wide. Ashley Cole was the next Chelsea player to draw the ire of the local supporters, who subjected him to a round of heckling.

Chelsea were soon on the front foot, Bertand and Cole working the ball on the edge of Newcastle’s box and managing to win a corner. Mata’s delivery found Ivanovic, but the set piece came to nothing and referee Howard Webb failed to spot a handball by the Serb.

Newcastle broke quickly, but a succession of poor crosses from Gutierrez and Gouffran failed to test Chelsea’s defence. Sissoko blasted the ball over the crossbar in the 27th minute.

Ramires was lucky to escape a red card after a two footed tackle on Guitierrez, Howard Webb only deeming the offence worthy of a yellow, provoking an angry response from Alan Pardew who marched onto the pitch to remonstrate.

Lampard played Demba Ba through on goal in the 31st minute with a lofted ball. Ba sped past Coloccini and shot into the path of Krul, he met the rebound with a headed effort but found himself on the end of a high boot by Collocini.

Webb failed to spot the blatant kick to the face, denying Chelsea what should have been an obvious penalty kick. Ba was ushered off the pitch by Chelsea’s medical staff, blood pouring from his nose, and Newcastle fans yet again booed their former favourite.

Petr Cech came up with a good save in the 35th minute, denying Cisse who should have made more of the chance. Ramires took a knock after an aerial tussle with James Perch.

Demba Ba returned to the pitch with his nose taped, looking dazed, and the St James’ Park crowd continued to heckle him.

As half-time approached, Newcastle pulled in front via the head of Gutierrez in the 40th minute. Ivanovic failed to shut down Davide Santon, who delivered a brilliant cross for the Argentine to head home.

Rafael Benitez opted to bring Demba Ba off as he continued to look out of sorts, Fernando Torres coming on in his stead.

Newcastle had a late opportunity via a corner as the half moved into injury time, Chelsea failed to clear the decks and were saved by Ryan Bertrand’s diving block into the path of Sissoko’s shot.

The Magpies closed out the half on top, leaving Chelsea with much to do in the second.

Benitez refrained from making any changes as the second half got under way. News filtered through concerning Demba Ba’s injury, which was confirmed to have been a broken nose.

Chelsea began the half positively and won an early corner, but couldn’t make the opportunity count.

Frank Lampard conjured up a spectacular goal in the 54th minute to pull Chelsea level. His shot from distance was a beautiful looking one, and the flight of the ball left keeper Krul with no chance to stop it.

Howard Webb failed to reprimand Papiss Cisse for a blatant elbow to John Terry’s face in the 60th minute; as the play continued, Juan Mata served up a beautiful goal to put Chelsea ahead after a lay-off inside the box from fellow Spaniard Fernando Torres.

Mata’s strike was masterful, beating Krul and curling into the top left-hand corner.

Webb delivered another baffling refereeing decision, sanctioning both Ashley Cole and Papiss Cisse with a yellow card after the Newcastle front man bizarrely put his hand around the throat of Cole.

Chelsea were now in the driving seat, dominating possession and dragging Newcastle around the pitch. The Blues pushed forward in search of a third, but Pardew’s side soon found a way back into the game.

Gouffran broke past Chelsea’s high line and sprinted through on goal, he dispatched an effort which Cech parried away but the rebound fell into the path of Sissoko, who promptly slotted the ball home into the empty net.

Juan Mata looked lively as we looked to get back in front, single handedly winning a corner after some fantastic dribbling inside the Newcastle box.

The Toon had another golden chance on the break as Sissoko beat Ashley Cole and made a run through on goal, but Cech tipped his shot wide.

Rafael Benitez got involved in a spat with Alan Pardew on the touchline, after Howard Webb failed to pick up a foul by Cabaye on Oscar.

Mata again looked to carry Chelsea forward, going on a fantastic run and managing to hold off Coloccini who was snapping at his heels.

Newcastle continued to soak up every Chelsea attack, and Sissoko was again at the forefront as they looked for a way to pull ahead on the counter.

Alan Pardew made his first change of the match in the 83rd minute, replacing Gouffran with Sylvain Marveaux.

Chelsea failed to make the most of a late free kick from distance. Ramires made an awful decision and shot well over the bar from a long way out.

The Magpies went ahead as the match entered the 90th minute, Davide Santon getting the better of Ivanovic as he dribbled into the box, laying the ball off for Sissoko who fired a shot past Cech.

Juan Mata took a yellow card for the team in the 2nd minute of stoppage time, breaking up a dangerous looking Newcastle attack with a foul.

Pardew tapped at his watch impatiently as the game wound up; Chelsea had a late appeal for a penalty turned down and Howard Webb soon blew his whistle to signal the end of the match.

A disappointing afternoon for Chelsea, things could have been oh so different had Howard Webb spotted what was a blatant foul on Demba Ba inside the box in the first half.

Newcastle, however, deserved their victory on the back of an impressive performance, putting Petr Cech under pressure time after time as they rained in a number of shots on target.

Chelsea: Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Lampard, Oscar, Mata, Betrand, Ba (Torres 41).

Unused substitutes: Turnbull, Ferreira, Marin, Azpilicueta, Benayoun, Ake

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February: A Preview

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Chelsea kicked off 2013 with a sub-par run in January, knocked out of the Capital One Cup over two legs by Swansea City and dropping valuable points on the league front.

A London derby victory over Arsenal and a competent showing away to Stoke City were offset by an embarrassing defeat at the hands of basement dwellers QPR, and draws against Southampton and Reading.

An FA Cup draw away to Brentford kept our hopes of retaining the trophy alive, but it was a result that further soured supporters’ attitudes towards interim manager Rafael Benitez and raised yet more questions about his short term viability as Chelsea manager.

Heading into February, it’s absolutely vital that we get back onto a firm footing in the league by going on a good run of form and solidifying our position in the Champions League places.

We currently sit four points ahead of fourth place Tottenham Hotspur and five ahead of Everton in fifth, and whilst our win over Arsenal has brought us a bit of breathing space, the eight point gap between ourselves and Arsene Wenger’s boys could be a lot slimmer come the end of the month if we don’t get our act together.

We start this Saturday with a trip to Newcastle United. Alan Pardew’s outfit have been disappointing this season, failing to build on last years impressive league campaign, and are currently embroiled in a relegation dogfight.

The Toon have yet again been active in the transfer market, bringing in a gaggle of French talent in an attempt to strengthen their squad and avoid the drop. After parting with Demba Ba, the club has splashed upwards of 17 million pounds on five new signings, and finished January with a vital victory over fellow strugglers Aston Villa.

We return to Stamford Bridge on the 9th for a match against Wigan Athletic. Latics boss Roberto Martinez has had a frugal January transfer window, bringing in young Chilean striker Angelo Henriquez on loan from Manchester United and MLS midfielder Roger Espinoza on a free transfer.

Like Newcastle, Wigan’s last league victory came against bottom three side Aston Villa, but the team only picked up two points in January after draws away to Fulham and Stoke City.

Our Europa League début is next on the agenda, with an away trip to take on Sparta Prague in the round of 32. The Czech side are managed by former Sydney FC boss Vítězslav Lavička, who spent five years at the club over the course of three stints during his playing career.

Sparta currently sit third in their league, trailing leaders Viktoria Plzen by just three points.

Three days on from our European tie, we return home for the FA Cup fourth round replay against Brentford. The Bees earned many admirers after holding us to a 2-2 draw at Griffin park, and with nothing to loose they will no doubt be relishing the trip to Stamford Bridge.

We’re straight back into Europa League action on the 21st with the second leg against Sparta Prague, and depending on the result in the opening fixture, this match could either be a dead rubber or a tense affair.

We wrap up February’s league fixtures with a tough away trip to take on defending Premier League champions Manchester City on the 24th. Our last match against Roberto Mancini’s side was Rafael Benitez’s first in charge after Roberto Di Matteo’s sacking, and it ended in a 0-0 stalemate.

Mancini has refrained from hitting the winter market thus far, but he has parted company with controversial Italian striker Mario Balotelli. A 0-0 draw away to QPR was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect January record in the league, and whilst the club currently find themselves trailing Manchester United by seven points they are still very much involved in a title race.

The fifth round of the FA Cup is scheduled to round off the month, and if we manage to progress past Brentford an away trip to Middlesbrough is on the cards for the 27th.

Key players

Juan Mata:

The Spanish magician is the fulcrum of our team going forward. With Eden Hazard and Oscar still adjusting to life in the Barclays Premier League, creative responsibility continues to fall on the diminutive midfielder’s shoulders and we struggle to notch up victories without him.

John Terry:

Rafael Benitez has been reluctant to throw John Terry in at the deep end as he returns from his injury spell, but the sooner he is bedded back into the starting line-up full time, the better. With David Luiz regularly being deployed in midfield Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic have shouldered the bulk of the centre half duties lately, and have frequently been found wanting.

Petr Cech:

Without wanting to single out stand-in keeper Ross Turnbull for our recent woes, the gulf in class between himself and our regular Czech shot stopper has been abundantly clear for all to see. It is imperative that Cech’s recovery from his calf injury is expedited, and if he is not immediately available then Henrique Hilario should be given a run of starts in the meantime.

Prediction

On paper February looks like a very tame month in comparison to January’s fixture list, and under normal circumstances six points in the league coupled with progression in the FA Cup and Europe would be more or less assured.

Given our current run of form though, it would take a brave man to bank on any Chelsea match this month. With the board rumoured to have spelled out to Rafa Benitez in very plain terms the primacy of the push for a top four spot, expect to see a lot of rotation for the Europa League double header against Sparta Prague.

The away trip to Manchester City at the end of the month will be a real test of our mettle, but if Rafa presides over any more slip ups in the league then he could very well find himself out of a job before our journey to the Eastlands.

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Reading 2 Chelsea 2

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Chelsea failed to get back to winning ways tonight after a 2-0 lead over Reading evaporated late on at the Madejski stadium.

Juan Mata provided the opener after an uninspiring first half display and Chelsea went 2-0 up via Frank Lampard in the second half, but the Royals battled to the final whistle and somehow managed to pull level at the death.

Rafael Benitez opted to rest John Terry after his return from injury against Brentford at the weekend, whilst Fernando Torres was preferred ahead of Demba Ba up front.

The blues lacked penetration early on, as Reading pressed well and disrupted the pattern of play.

The Royals soon had a decent spell of possession of their own, but couldn’t put Chelsea under any pressure.

With twenty minutes gone and no significant Chelsea effort on goal to speak of, Reading looked the more contented side. We slowly started to exert more pressure in their final third, but couldn’t make it count.

Reading captain McAnuff was booked in the 27th minute, after a dangerous looking challenge on Oscar. Gary Cahill had a free header from the resulting set piece, but couldn’t get his effort on target.

Chelsea were looking good on the ball, dominating possession and spreading the play in an effort to find a way through.

Ryan Bertrand shot wide in the 37th minute, after Fernando Torres got on the end of a Branislav Ivanovic long ball and chested it into his path.

As half time approached we continued to look comfortable as Reading afforded us time and space on the ball, but we couldn’t make the most of our possession.

Juan Mata conjured up a great chance on in the 40th minute, wrestling free from two defenders before finding Oscar on the edge of the box with a nice lob, but Fernando Torres messed up the opportunity and served up a wayward shot.

Ashley Cole shot well wide in the 42nd, as we continued to look for the breakthrough.

Reading had a late spell of attacking intent, but Gary Cahill and Frank Lampard both looked assured defensively as they marshalled the threat easily enough.

Chelsea finally found a way through in stoppage time, Mata layed the ball off to Torres on the edge of the box before making a great run, Torres picked him out with a lofted through ball and he smashed a shot across his body and past the keeper.

Our first shot on target had been a long time in coming, but finally we found ourselves on top as the whistle blew for half time.

Rafael Benitez refrained from making any changes at the half, with Brian McDermott likewise opting to send out the same eleven for Reading.

Fernando Torres created our first chance of the half, laying on a cross for Ryan Bertrand in the box.

Oscar squandered a chance in the 54th minute after making a great run to get on the end of a Lampard pass, instead of laying it off to the open Fernando Torres he tried and failed to pull off an acrobatic shot.

Ross Turnbull looked shaky in trying to deal with a long ball from Reading, missing his punch completely, but fortunately for him Pogrebnyak was flagged for offside.

The Royals made the first change of the evening, McDermott replacing Danny Guthrie with Gareth McCleary.

Reading had a rare period of possession after an Ashley Cole foul gifted them a free kick, but couldn’t make anything of it.

Frank Lampard headed home in the 64th minute, meeting a Juan Mata corner mid-air and dispatching it into the back of the net to put Chelsea 2-0 up.

Chelsea continued to look calm and assured, pushing forward in search of a third goal to put the game to bed once and for all.

Rafael Benitez took off Juan Mata in the 76th minute, replacing him with Yossi Benayoun whilst Brian McDermott brought on Akpan in place of the struggling Karacan.

Reading had a rare opportunity from a free kick, but Adam Le Fondre couldn’t control his header and he sent the ball over the bar.

Gary Cahill went down after a clash of heads with McCleary in the 81st minute, but was soon on his feet again.

The Royals continued to look for a goal, but Le Fondre once again served up a wayward effort that didn’t trouble Ross Turnbull. Oscar soon found himself through on goal, but squandered his chance.

Reading notched up a dramatic goal in the 86th minute as Le Fondre got the better of Turnbull inside the box, sparking them to life late on and giving them hope.

As the game went into the five minute spell of injury time, Benitez brought on Ba in place of Torres in an effort to chew up the clock.

Reading surged forward late in search of the equaliser, and Le Fondre once again popped up to score a vital goal and equalise right at the death.

Chelsea should have wrapped up a comfortable three points tonight, but late defensive lapses and a failure to shut off the game when given the chance have contributed to another embarrassing evening.

As our away form appears to be slipping, chances of a top four finish are looking increasingly uncertain and much improvement is needed if we are to meet our targets going forward.

Chelsea: Turnbull, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Cole, Ramires, Lampard, Oscar, Mata (Benayoun 76), Bertrand, Torres (Ba 90+2)

Unused Substitutes: Hilario, Ferreira, Marin, Terry, Ake

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Brentford 2 Chelsea 2

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John Terry’s return from his lengthy injury spell couldn’t inspire Chelsea to an FA Cup victory over Brentford at Griffin Park today, as the Bees battled to earn a Stamford Bridge replay.

Chelsea dominated possession in the first ten minutes of the game, not allowing Brentford any time on the ball. Ashley Cole drilled a cross past the goal face early on, but Fernando Torres failed to get on the end of it.

Brentford’s first chance of the match came after Ramires squandered possession and allowed them to break quickly, but Marcello Trotta failed to hit his shot cleanly.

Chelsea handed Brentford a golden opportunity after a defensive mix up between John Terry and Ross Turnbull in the 11th minute, the referee awarding a free kick in the box after the stand in goalkeeper collected Terry’s back pass.

Harry Forrester fired the free kick over the bar, saving Chelsea’s blushes.

Brentford soon had another set piece opportunity via a corner, which Ivanovic managed to clear it after it fell short.

Chelsea slowly began to settle, but Brentford kept their shape well and prevented the blues from really imposing themselves. Marko Marin failed to conjure up anything from the teams first corner of the match.

Clayton Donaldson showed his great turn of pace as he made a scorching run down the left flank, but Ramires managed to shut down the threat.

With thirty minutes gone Brentford were the happier of the two sides, preventing Chelsea from creating anything in front of goal and enjoying a few half chances of their own.

Adam Forshaw unleashed a powerful shot, which thankfully for Turnbull went wide of the post. The Bees squandered another great chance after a poor Gary Cahill pass gifted them possession.

Brentford continued to hold things together at the back, and were soon putting chelsea under pressure again. Forshaw saw his long range effort dealt with comfortably by Turnbull.

The home side took the lead in the 42nd minute, Trotta firing in a lovely shot from a rebound after Frank Lampard was caught in possession by Forshaw. 1-0.

Gary Cahill received a yellow card for a clumsy challenge on the edge of the box as the half wound down. After the resulting Brentford free kick came to nothing, Chelsea failed to conjure up anything on the counter as Oscar was shut down easily enough.

An insipid half of football from Chelsea, surely not another cup upset on the cards?

Rafael Benitez made a solitary change at the half, replacing Marko Marin with Juan Mata.

Chelsea failed to make the most of a couple of free kicks in the final third early on, but Mata’s early touches looked encouraging.

Chelsea pulled level in the 54th minute, Ryan Bertrand playing a ball into the box which was met by the head of a Brentford defender. Oscar gathered the ball as it fell from the sky,   promptly turning and beating two opponents before firing home a neat shot. 1-1.

Chelsea began to control the match, dictating the tempo and denying Brentford time on the ball but still failing to exert themselves in front of goal.

The Bees began to work their way back into contention slowly but surely, putting pressure on Ross Turnbull from a pair of corners as the game approached the 70th minute mark.

Brentford scorer Trotta was the first to be replaced by manager Uwe Rosler, who brought on Tom Adeyemi in his stead.

Brentford were awarded a penalty in the 71st minute after Turnbull was adjudged to have brought down Adeyemi in the box, picking up a yellow card in the process.

Young Harry Forrester slotted home the spot kick, sending the home supporters into a state of ecstasy as the Bees once again found themselves on top. 2-1.

Chelsea threw themselves forward in a desperate attempt to find an equaliser, but Brentford continued to deny the European champions. Branislav Ivanovic tried to get the better of the keeper with an overhead strike, but came up short.

He soon found himself substituted in the 78th minute, as Rafael Benitez opted to bring on Cesar Azpilicueta. Scott Barron replaced Harry Forrester for Brentford.

Demba Ba replaced Ryan Bertrand in the 81st minute, after the young Englishman made a mess of an opportunity to get a header on target.

Fernando Torres’ first shot on target pulled the blues level, as Ba battled to win the ball and play him through on goal. A lovely strike from the Spaniard, 2-2.

Brentford’s Adam Forshaw was brought off, being replaced by Sam Saunders.

Lampard had a late effort on goal with a dipping shot in the 86th, but the keeper dealt with it easily enough.

Brentford sat deep as the game headed into extra-time, intent to get across the line and seal up a hard earned Stamford Bridge replay at all costs.

A late handball shout was turned down by the referee in the 3rd minute of extra time, killing off the prospect of a last gasp Chelsea winner via the penalty spot.

Brentford emerged at the final whistle to a chorus of applause, and they will surely be the toast of the Football League after holding Chelsea to a draw in a spirited display.

Chelsea’s first half performance was uninspired, severely lacking in every department, and the second half improvement will do little to quell Rafael Benitez’ detractors.

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