GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Having watched the seasonal festivities grind to a halt from his seat in Matthew Harding Stand, columnist and season ticket holder Giles Smith gives his take on the new year defeat…


Ah well. It wouldn't be Christmas without a bit of panto, would it? And Harry Redknapp, whatever else you want to say about him, does make a highly convincing Widow Twanky.

'Oh, yes he does.' 'Oh no he doesn't.' 'Oh, yes he does.' (Continue for next 15 minutes.)

And it wouldn't be this special time of year without some sort of clunker like last night's. The fixture-crammed holiday season schedule all but guarantees it. And perhaps we thought we'd got away with it this year, having negotiated the seemingly trickier minefields of a Boxing Day trip to Norwich, followed by a visit shortly afterwards to Goodison Park, where nobody had won in eight months. With six points from those, we could easily have thought we were home and dry and ready to look back on that incredibly rare thing - an entirely panto-free year.

But then along came - of all teams - QPR. And no doubt, in the present uncomfortably critical climate, people will want to chalk up the ensuing theatrical embarrassment to the manager and retrospectively wonder about the wisdom of resting players like Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Ramires, even against a side that had only managed to win once in its previous 20 Premier League games and is, frankly, as good as down already.

But remember that, even in the generally faultless Jose Mourinho days, this club was by no means exempt from bursts of traditional Christmas theatre - normally against Fulham - and we still had to sit in Santa hats through our share of those occasions when the natural order is outrageously overturned and something completely unthinkable and covered in rather grotesque amounts of lipstick happens.

Now, normally, in the case of defeats to rank outsiders or plucky little clubs from round the corner, you would gladly hold your hand up if you could say the other side wanted it more, fought harder for every ball, played as if their lives depended on it, etc.

But of course, it being Christmas, QPR didn't have to do that. Rather, like Fulham before them, they simply had to run around a bit, allow 11 goal-scoring chances to develop around their penalty area but somehow go begging in the first half alone, get rather clumsily in the way every now and again, pass the ball consistently into the stands, rely on the officials wrongly calling Frank Lampard offside, and then run up the other end as fast as they could and nick it in the 77-minute with their first shot on target, struck from hit-and-hope distance by Shaun Wright-Phillips. And one hates to say it, but these days, when Shaun Wright-Phillips ends up playing the part of the hero, you really do know that you're deep in pantomime country.

And so one is left mulling over the curio of a home defeat to the worst team in the Premier League at the moment, and wondering what one should make of it.

And superficially, of course, one would be tempted to rank it very highly on the list of the season's humiliations - indeed, of recent history's humiliations - right up there with only drawing at home to Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool back in November.

But, at the same time, one can't, because one has to factor in the time of the year and the firmly established traditions of the holiday season, before which all of us are, in the end, powerless and wherein normal rules do not apply. It was football, then - but football in a comedy dress and a wig. You've just got to laugh and go with the spirit of it, really. Real life will return soon enough.

It was the 24th minute last night when Julio Cesar first decided to let a few seconds on the clock tick down by shifting the ball from one side of the goal to the other before taking a goal kick, moving very slowly and gently while he did so, as if scared of waking a sleeping baby in an adjacent room.

The 24th minute, with the score at 0-0: could that be a record for the commencement of time-wasting operations by a visiting team to Stamford Bridge? I've got a feeling it might be.

At the same time, I have an idea that I saw something similar when Harry Redknapp brought Portsmouth to this ground a couple of years ago. And I also think I might have seen Southampton adopt the very same tactic, under Harry Redknapp, when they came here in 2004. And did Tottenham once turn up and try something along these lines, when Harry Redknapp was in charge there? Memory could be playing tricks.

Chelsea v QPR

Anyway, given that Cesar had spent nearly three quarters of the match doing his best to keep the ball from being in play, there were many among us who felt, when the board finally went up, that three minutes of time added on was a bit skimpy, all things considered. And I'm sure we were right.

On the other hand, had the officials taken a proper measure of the time consumed by Cesar tiptoeing about the place, replacing divots, knocking mud off his boots, and complaining when corners weren't given as goal kicks, none of us would have been home before midnight. And the thing about panto is that it's a night out for all the family, and many who were present were no doubt grateful to be back earlier and getting the young ones off to bed at a relatively decent hour. Fair play to the officials for their thoughtfulness in this area.


Looking at Newcastle United's official website last night to read the club's statement on Demba Ba, my eye was drawn across to a list of links to other stories and in particular to the headline reading 'Boss Gutted By Old Trafford Tragedy.'

That certainly pulled me up short. A tragedy at Old Trafford? Had I missed a terrible news story, somewhere along the line?

No, in fact. I clicked on the link, and the 'Old Trafford Tragedy' so loudly alluded to was Newcastle conceding that fourth goal in the dying seconds at Old Trafford, which gave United their streaky 4-3 victory during the Christmas fixtures.

Now, surely some perspective is needed here. It stands to reason that you can't use language like that in circumstances like those because it doesn't leave you anywhere to go when something genuinely tragic happens.

Although, hang on a moment: thinking about it, a fourth goal, in the dying seconds, consigning one to defeat, at Old Trafford, in the tipping rain, in a match in which one has scored three times, and to the festive delight of Sir Alex Ferguson in his padded coat… maybe tragedy isn't too strong a word after all.

And this is the message of Christmas, too, isn't it? It's that valuable time of the year when one finds some time to think of those less fortunate than ourselves - those who endured a tragedy, like Newcastle United fans, rather than merely a pantomime, like us.