PAT NEVIN: DAYS LIKE THAT
Former Blue and columnist Pat Nevin was among the Chelsea fans high up in the top tier at Newcastle on Saturday. He writes here about the day and the anticipated response to it…
Saturday certainly brought us all down with a considerable bump after what had been a fantastic run. In that I live not too far from Newcastle, the Family Nevin turned up together in expectant mood concealed within a very large contingent of travelling supporters. The atmosphere high up in the 'Gods' at the stadium was created almost totally by those wearing blue. Those in black and white were strangely subdued for the first hour of the game, a hangover from their recent derby defeat and I suspect some pretty low expectations for this game.
It took a long time for the Chelsea fans to realise that something wasn't quite right. Yes we had plenty of possession and there was the crossbar denying JT; slowly but surely however it became clear that something wasn't quite right. Actually a few things weren't right but I found it hard to put my finger on just what the problems were.
Too many players had bad days at the office of course and there was a feeling that those on the pitch expected it to happen just as much as those in the stands did. Neither were actually able to make it happen on the day, even if the support was constant throughout. In the end the biggest single problem seemed to me to be nothing more than the poor quality of the final ball. Of course Alan Pardew's boys defended deep, well and in numbers but that wouldn't normally be able to stymie a Chelsea side with Oscar, Hazard and Mata enjoying plenty of decent possession in the final third.
Maybe Oscar's performance was a mirror of the team's. It isn't as if he wasn't trying to do the right thing, the passing was just way below what we, he and the manager knows is anything close to his normal standards. On quite a few occasions I could see that he had spotted the right ball, it was on and he himself was totally amazed when it got nowhere near its intended target after it left his boot.
I'll be honest and tell you that I know how it feels. Every player has days like that and usually on those days, the harder you try the worse it gets. It is easy to say that you should just relax and play your normal game, but it is easier said than done as the pressure builds and the confidence begins to falter. A simple 20-yard side footer you wouldn't normally even think about, suddenly has to be more precise, a second more time is taken and by then the space is of course gone, the pass cut out.
Chelsea have shown the right attitudes already this season when there have been unexpected setbacks. Think of how bleak things looked in the Champions League group after the defeat at home to Basel. I must admit I had all sorts of negative scenarios going on in my head after that one, but look at the group table now, two games later. The reaction was perfection in that competition and it will have to be the same in the league.
As for the fans at Newcastle they were tremendous throughout and there was scarcely a hint of anger at the end. There was some disbelief, but there seemed to be a decent understanding that given the previous great run of games, this was probably going to happen at some point. Man City have had similar problems to Chelsea away from home in the league this season, even if they are demolishing sides at home every other week. It looks like that is the golden ticket going forward, finding out how to pick up as many points as possible on the road.
Arsenal have been pretty good on their travels and that is probably why they are at the top of the pile right now. The question remains as to whether or not they can keep it up when the pressure builds. A good start is always welcomed but having Chelsea, City, United and even Spurs among others breathing down their necks changes things. Let's see how they cope when they have a bad day against a highly motivated outfit away from the Emirates when the conditions are less than perfect.
I am writing this from San Sebastian getting ready to cover tonight's Champions League game between Real Sociedad and Manchester United. Having been at Newcastle on Saturday, then Goodison Park for the bore draw on Sunday between Everton and Spurs (although AVB was very, very nice after the game) and getting back in time to see the Blues at the Bridge tomorrow, I will admit that I am quite enjoying work at the moment. Send the abusive emails to the address below as usual, I can take it!
But the point is, the Schalke game is the one I am looking forward to most from them all, because a performance and most importantly a win against the Germans guarantees qualification. For me that would put a nice gloss on what is roughly speaking the end of the first quarter of the season. Second in the league and looking ahead to the knockout rounds of the big one, having cruised through the Capital One Cup tie effortlessly at Arsenal, will do just fine. No more motivation is needed in the dressing room, but I am sure the sight of the manager's face after the game on Saturday was enough to ensure that the team, whichever one is picked, will be ready and waiting tomorrow, and ready to give of its best.
Last week I asked what was our biggest ever League Cup winning score, not an easy one and it took a deal of research to get it right. It was however 7-0 v Doncaster way back in 1960. Many did of course get it right, but the lucky winner chosen at random was Stewart Barton
This week a weird question and a total guess asked from you. I mentioned my travels this week, but could you guess how many games I covered last season for TV and radio? Go on have a go, if no one gets it right the nearest one wins the prize. Send the number you think it is to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and one lucky winner will receive a season review DVD signed by one of the players. By the way the hint is, I was very busy last season.