New Year’s Eve is a time to look back on the year and celebrate your accolades. Yet Chelsea had a year to forget, winning no trophies, and 2011 was summed up in a dismal showing in front of 40,000 Chelsea fans. Whilst everybody was getting ready up and down the country, preparing the fireworks, nobody could spark the players into life on the pitch. Time after time, Aston Villa nullified any Chelsea rocket, and soon, the ageing players began to fizz out, whilst their counterparts lit the fuse and ignited. Torres, no longer the sparkler he was before, was left on the bench, along with Lampard, who now is no longer a guaranteed starter.
Chelsea actually started quite positively, seeming to react to three consecutive draws: Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata were working up space even within the first thirty seconds. Aston Villa were very much on the back foot in the early exchanges, partly due to Heskey and Bent both being unable to make the starting XI. In their places came Agbonlahor and Ireland was just behind him in a 4-4-1-1 formation, and it was the latter, criticised about his off-field antics of late, who set up Albrighton, but the England youngster just could not keep it under his control.
Then came the 22nd minute when Chelsea had a golden chance. The experienced Richard Dunne acted before he thought and carelessly brought Drogba down.
After a brief consultation with Mata, it was the Ivorian who stepped up to plant it just under Guzan’s body, to score his 150th Chelsea goal. His celebration after was one of public respect to club legend Peter Osgood, whose ashes were buried under the penalty box, but the pessimist might take that further and remark that the 33 year-old is waving goodbye, in what could be his last Chelsea match.
Just like on Boxing Day against Fulham though, the lead did not last long. The former Manchester City man Stephen Ireland was having a great match, and though John Terry cleared his first shot off the line, the England captain could not do anything about Ireland’s second attempt, equalising for the Villans just five minutes later.
Drogba had two free-kicks as the half-time whistle approached, but a combination of Guzan and his wall had both covered.
With no substitutions made either side, Chelsea had to inject some life into their play with the players they already had on. Mata and Cole worked well down the left, but it was Aston Villa’s Agbonlahor who had a superb chance. With space aplenty, all the Englishman had to do was round Cech and score, but the Czech keeper got down well and saved from Agbonlahor’s, albeit easily anticipated, shot. Lampard came into the thick of things in the 56th minute, replacing Oriol Romeu, with Meireles reverting to the deeper role occupied by the young Spaniard and Lampard taking the Portuguese’s role. Still nothing could be worked up.
Sturridge was next to be substituted, on for Torres, who’s first touch could have produced a sensational goal, but for the crossbar.
Torres created another chance, rounding a defender and assisting Drogba, but the Ivorian, due to go to the African Cup of Nations soon, wasted by side-footing well wide. AVB kept up his “strategy” and once again used all three substitutions, Ferreira making way for Bosingwa, who could have made an instant name for himself, cutting in from the right, only to see his left-foot screamer well saved by Guzan.
Eight minutes were left on the clock and the Chelsea man’s wanted some urgency about their play. But their attacking desire was hampered by elementary errors at the back. Luiz and Terry left so much space between then, and Petrov, with all the time in the world, steered home past Cech, much to the home fan’s horror.
The bad dream became a nightmare soon for the fans. With a loss of hope and at times maybe even a sense of “I’m-not-quite-sure-what-I’m-supposed-to-be-doing”, Lampard’s pass was intercepted by Stephen Ireland, who ran to the box with no-one to be seen. Unselfishly, he past to Darren Bent, who had just come on. The striker coolly slotted it into the back of the net.
The final whistle came, to a chorus of boos from the home fans. AVB must win against Wolves now, else the heat will turn up again.