My Soccer World

Football: Last-Gasp Lampard Averts Chelsea Crisis In Win Against Stoke

Posted on: January 18, 2009

LONDON – Frank Lampard’s added time winner eased the pressure on under-fire Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari as the London club came from behind to beat Stoke City 2-1 in dramatic fashion on Saturday.

Scolari has come in for heavy recent criticism and publicly criticised his players’ lack of spirit during the build-up to this game.

And when his side were trailing to Rory Delap’s 60th minute opening goal with three minutes remaining, it appeared the spotlight would once again be thrown on the Brazilian’s controversial regime.

But Juliano Belleti’s equalising header brought relief to the manager before Lampard struck with a superb left-footed shot to deliver a crucial three points.

That came as welcome end to a painful afternoon for Scolari, who had discovered before kick-off that Joe Cole would be out for the season with a knee ligament injury and then lost skipper John Terry to an injury picked up in the warm-up.

With the manager having completely omitted Didier Drogba from the squad, anything less than victory would have led to angry criticism of his methods.

But the reaction of Lampard – playing his 400th game for the club – and the rest of the Chelsea players after the midfielder’s goal was to mob the manager suggesting Scolari may yet turn things around at the club.

For long periods, though, that result had seemed unlikely with Stoke causing the home side no end of problems.

Chelsea developed an enviable reputation for defensive miserliness when Jose Mourinho and, to a lesser extent, Avram Grant were at the helm.

But under Scolari they have begun to ship goals with alarming regularity – and their inability to defend set-pieces has become a symbol of their recent decline under Scolari.

The Brazilian had been moved to defend his tactics before this game and described in detail the practice ground drills that would counter Stoke’s well known aerial threat.

But those words counted for nothing when Chelsea were carved open by Stoke midfielder Rory Delap’s first long throw just two minutes into the game.

Terry’s absence was never going to help the London club’s cause and it took a combination of the back of Alex’s head and Stoke centreback Abdoulaye Faye’s inability to direct a header below Petr Cech’s crossbar to ensure Scolari’s men escaped.

The incident underlined the lack of organisation and leadership within the current Chelsea side – and set the tone for another desperate afternoon for Scolari.

It was only to be expected that the home side would totally dominate possession against a Stoke team battling to survive their first season in the top-flight for 23 years.

But the one thing they needed was someone with the composure to take one of the chances that inevitably came their way – and during the first 45 minutes of this game, that person was noticeably missing.

Michael Ballack was handed a good chance to make an impression withy a 10th minute free-kick but the German’s tame effort was easily saved by Thomas Sorensen.

Then 14 minutes later, Salomon Kalou had an even better chance to ease Chelsea nerves when he got behind the Stoke backline to meet Lampard’s driven free-kick only to lift the ball over the bar from just six yards out.

At a time of crisis, the last thing Scolari needed was to see his players spurn clear-cut opportunities.

And there was a growing feeling the miss could prove costly as Sorensen began to emerge as the game’s outstanding player with a string of outstanding saves during the remainder of the first half.

The pick of those was a reaction stop to deny Ashley Cole’s powerful drive – although a full length dive from Nicolas Anelka came a close second.

There was always a concern that Chelsea would pay for the missed chances and that’s exactly what happened when Delap got in behind the Chelsea backline andfinished past Cech.

But Chelsea showed great spirit to claw their way back into the game through Belletti’s far post header before Lampard struck.

– AFP /ls

Channel News Asia

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