SAFC 2-4 Chelsea (H)

Sometimes in football, you just have to accept the better team won. This was the case last night at the Stadium of Light, as Chelsea managed to go someway to righting the 3-0 reverse they endured in November at our hands. Well, we're still winning 5-4 on aggregate I suppose...

SAFC started with a team that took me by surprise, more of a 4-4-1-1 than 4-5-1 we were expecting. Kieran Richardson took the role behind Gyan, as opposed to new boy Stephane Sessegnon, who was wide on the left of midfield. Steed Malbranque partnered Jordan Henderson in midfield, and the rest of the team lined up as expected. No place in the 16 for Lee Cattermole, who continued to sit out with injury.

What a start it was for the lads. Phil Bardsley might claim some Scottish heritage, but I’m starting to think his name should actually be ‘Bardinho’ as his run from the half way line, made it all the way to the edge of the box, he cut inside past Mikel as if he wasn’t there and fired Sunderland into the lead, with a low swerving drive past Cech in the Chelsea goal. A perfect start for the boys in red and white.

However from then on it wasn’t all plain sailing for us. It seemed to rile Chelsea up and they got more and more into the game. Lampard should have done better with a low drive from just inside the area, but he made amends for that shortly after Chelsea were awarded a penalty.

I don’t have any complaints about the penalty. Essien’s dink over the top towards the on-rushing Ashley Cole ended with the ladies man being flattened by Ahmed Elmohamady. Lampard dispatched the penalty with ease, smashing the ball into the net as Gordon dived despairingly the wrong way.

Chelsea dominated the play from then on, the best SAFC could muster was an outrageous overhead kick from the edge of the area, attempted by Asamoah Gyan.

On 22 minutes, Chelsea made it 2-1. SAFC unable to get into the game, and are punished. A ball through the middle splits the defence, Kalou knocks it past Gordon who had come way, way, out the box, and the ball just had enough on it to evade the chasing Anton Ferdinand.

However, Sunderland were not beaten yet. Ahmed Elmohamady had a mazy run down the right, leading to a fairly soft looking free-kick. I’m not complaining though, as up steps man of the moment Kieran Richardson to hit the ball under the jumping wall and nestle it into the bottom corner, Petr Cech left stranded.

It was hard to believe only 30 minutes had gone, and we got our first look at new boy Stephane Sessegnon. The Benin international showed some beautiful link-up play down the left, before dribbling across the box looking for a shot. Encouragingly he played the ball wide to Elmo, as opposed to slashing wildly, as many players would have. Intelligent play even if it did lead to nothing.

Five minutes later, Essien unleashed a pile-driver from distance, saved magnificently by Craig Gordon. The resulting corner caused all sorts of panic in the Sunderland area, eventually leading to Ivanovic hitting the bar from all of 5 yards out.

A let off for the lads, but we headed into half-time level, and just about deservedly so.

The break was quite welcome, but it was straight back to the action from the kick-off, as only minutes in, Anton Ferdinand couldn’t clear a cross. It fell straight to Frank Lampard who had the goal at his mercy, only for Nedum Onouha to get in a genuinely world-class block, Gordon finishing the defensive work to nip in ahead of Drogba and put it out for a corner.

The resulting corner caused yet more panic however. Ivanovic’s header again causing problems for Sunderland, and what followed was Kalou and Anelka combining to miss from less than a yard out. Another huge let off for SAFC as Chelsea took control.

In the 55th minute, 40 or so thousand people collectively held their breath as Asamoah Gyan fell to the ground. Our only striker picking up a knock, but luckily the Ghanaian hit man recovered and went about his merry way. A startling reminder that for all the good we’re doing, we’re one injury away from disaster.

For some bizarre reason in the second half, having matched Chelsea man for man in the first half, we decided to drop off a bit, allowing Chelsea to come at us. This was a very dangerous game to play as Anelka, operating in a deeper role than usual, absolutely bossed things.

This tactic of Sunderland’s proved to be fatal, as tired legs and a momentary lack of concentration gifted Chelsea the lead once again. Drogba’s corner falls to Lampard on the edge of the box, his strike is saved well by Gordon, but with the defence half asleep, "EnglandsBraveJohnTerry" was there to knock the ball past Gordon as he lay helpless.

Only minutes later, and with SAFC looking more and more tired by the minute, Anelka found himself clean through on goal. Le Sulk squared it to Kalou inside the area, and the Ivorian managed to bizarrely fire the ball off both posts and thankfully, rebound to safety. SAFC off the hook once again, but Chelsea starting to show some strength and class, with Sunderland offering little by way of reply.

Bruce rang the changes, Colback & Cook appearing in place of Malbranque & Onouha. They weren’t having bad games by any stretch, but we needed fresh legs. Sadly for us, the youthful replacements didn’t make too much impact.

After Jose Bosingwa took a shade under 15 years to be substituted, the board went up with 5 minutes added time, perhaps a lifeline for SAFC? It wasn’t to be.

Chelsea hitting a visibly knackered SAFC on the break, Chelsea sub Malouda picking up a loose ball by the by-line, and Anelka, who had rapidly turned into man of the match, put the icing on the cake with a neat flick into the bottom corner. Game over.

Ratings:

01 Gordon – 7/10 – Made some superb stops, and not much he could do about any goal.
02 Bardsley – 9/10 – The Manchester Maicon continues to impress. Deserved goal. Was everywhere.
03 Richardson – 7/10 – A more Richardson-esque performance. Very good in bursts, quiet the rest.
08 Malbranque – 8/10 – Superb in a more central role. He could have a future there.
10 Henderson – 5/10 – Never got out of Anelka’s pocket. The lad needs a rest.
15 Onouha – 7/10 – Class block in the first half, an generally did well.
19 Bramble – 8/10 – I thought he was excellent, getting stuck in everywhere.
27 Elmohamady – 5/10 – Cole had the better of him all night down the left. Disappointing.
28 Sessegnon – 7/10 – Drifted in and out the game, but when he was in it, he looked a good buy.
29 Ferdinand – 6/10 – Prone to a few lapses in concentration, not terrible, not great.
33 Gyan – 6/10 – Fairly quiet performance, Chelsea soaked up most the long balls with ease.

Subs:

25 Colback – 5/10 – Can’t remember him being involved much; the game was pretty much won.
26 Cook – 5/10 – Much like Colback, came in when it was too late.

A lot of pundits will point to a home defeat, and four goals conceded as a bad day at the office for us. It simply wasn’t like that. We gave it 110% all night; unfortunately a few little things conspired to see us walk away with nothing.

Firstly, an inspired performance from Nicolas Anelka, which I don’t think anyone saw coming. Second of all, I do think Bruce got it slightly wrong tactically, as we shouldn’t have invited Chelsea on as much as we did. Thirdly, well we won’t be playing Chelsea every week, and that first half performance would have seen us 3 or 4 up on a lesser team.

Getting beat of the reigning champions like that was no disgrace. There are still things to be worked on. Henderson could use a rest, which is handy as Muntari will be waiting in the wings when we play at Stoke, and nothing happened last night to suggest we won’t come away with something from the Britannia on Saturday.

Keep the faith boys and girls. On a whole, the best team won. It happens sometimes. We’re still 6th, and still will be after tonight’s round of games whatever the outcome; such has been the level of our performance this season.

No reasons to be too down. Let’s go put things right at lunchtime on Saturday.

Ha’way the lads.

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