West Ham grabbed a vital draw to take them above Portsmouth and two points away from safety with a hard earned performance below the cold skies of Upton Park yesterday.
The boisterous London derby started almost immediately with a 25 yard pile-driver from the Hammer’s former infamous midfielder Frank Lampard as Chelsea started brightly. Robert Green was more than capable of preventing the quick strike and produced a good save to deny the talismanic figure in blue. Similarly, Branislav Ivanovic came close for the Pensioners as his close ranged header was cleared of the line mid-way through the first half by former blue, Scott Parker.
However the game soon turned into a gruelling tug of war affair as both teams were unable to retain possession for any consistent period of time. West Ham defended resolutely against the men in blue and looked to counter on the break at every opportunity. They finally broke the deadlock through a mazy Jack Collison, whose run was impeded by Ashley Cole. Alessandro Diamanti dispatched the resulting spot kick with aplomb as West Ham took the lead in the 45th minute, going in at the break one goal to the good.
The second half was played in an edgy frenetic style, as Chelsea looked to dominate but were unable to create much against a determined Gianfranco Zola side. Didier Drogba looked forlorn up-front, his only real chance a Marco Van-Basten like shot from an acute angle, firing narrowly wide. However, Daniel Sturridge – on for Salomon Kalou- finally created a chance Chelsea could capitalise on as he went down under a Matthew Upson challenge. The decision looked harsh, however that was no excuse for what followed as the referee made Lampard take the penalty a crazy three times before he was satisfied. Lampard held his nerve however and pulled his side onto level terms (61).
The game continued nervously towards the end, with both sides desperately looking for the win, and when it ended neither side looked happy with just one point.
Carlo Ancelotti: “We didn’t play well, the first half was not good and a draw was the right result .In the second half we were stronger and had more intensity.”
Gianfranco Zola: “The performance was magnificent – the enthusiasm, the passion, the character, it was all remarkable. We got a point, but it should’ve been more.”
Chelsea must look at this match as two points dropped rather than a point gained. With Manchester United losing at Fulham, Chelsea had the chance to build a buffer between themselves and the current Premier League champions. However their performance on the day was not good enough as the men in blue looked out of sorts, unable to break down West Ham’s defence.
Indeed they were lucky to come away with anything from Upton Park as their penalty looked extremely fortunate, replays showing that Upson did indeed connect with the ball in his challenge. However, what resulted was certainly an unexpected twist. Lampard, after scoring the first was made to retake the penalty due to player movement into the box. After again dispatching the penalty, Lampard was made to deliver a final, third penalty into the net before the referee judged the penalty legitimate. The Chelsea stalwart kept calm though and made sure that his men would at least garner a point out of the match. Although the penalty claim seemed overly harsh, an earlier Salomon Kalou collision with Green looked a much more promising appeal, and it could be argued that things were levelled out at the end.
West Ham have every right to feel aggrieved however as they delivered an organised, disciplined and well regimented performance that has probably been the best they have played all season. Matthew Upson was superb and literally marked Drogba out of the game – moreover Parker in the middle was a constant thorn to the creativity of Chelsea, hounding them out of possession.
This draw allows West Ham to climb above relegation battlers Portsmouth and takes them to within two points of safety. At the very least then they can go into the Christmas period hopeful that they can dig themselves out of the mire and stave off their surprising bottom of the table war.
Chelsea still gain a point on Manchester United despite a draw here, and move to four points clear of the champions. Arsenal reduce the deficit on Chelsea, with their win against Hull on Saturday, leaving them six points behind the current leaders with a game in hand. No doubt Carlo Ancelotti will be keeping an eye over his shoulder as the season progresses, especially considering that the African Cup of Nations is just around the corner and that many of his assets will be disappearing, leaving him with a weakened side with which to contend for the Premier League.
A plus for Ancelotti must be the form Joe Cole is starting to show since returning from injury. His fitness has improved and he was one of the few Chelsea players that looked capable of making something happen in what was a very quiet display. Both he and Lampard looked in good touch and that can only bode well for Fabio Capello’s chosen eleven come June.
Chelsea 1-1 West Ham –Diamanti 45 (pen) – Lampard 61 (pen)
Chelsea Czech, Ivanovic, A Cole, Carvalho, Terry, Lampard, J Cole (Zhirkov 75), Ballack, Malouda (Mikel 46), Drogba, Kalou (Strurridge 46)
West Ham : Green, Gabbidon (Tomkins 19), Upson, Ilunga, Parker, Kovac, Noble, Faubert, Collison, Franco, Diamanti
Chelsea – West Ham
5 – Corners – 5
20 (6) – Shots (on target) – 6 (5)
16 – Fouls – 17
3 (0) – Yellow cards (Red) – 4 (0)
4 – Offside – 4