GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS
Late goals, long-range goals and the type of early goals he describes as an art form - last night's game had variety for supporter Giles Smith to discuss in this week's column…
For people who leave the ground five minutes early in order to 'beat the rush', the season must have a very different complexion to the one it has for the rest of us this week.
As far as the early-leavers are concerned, we're out of the Capital One Cup, having gone down 2-3 to Manchester United at the Bridge a week ago. Moreover, last night's disappointing 2-2 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk, on a night when only a victory would really do, has shunted us down to third in our group, behind Juventus, and cast an ominous shadow over our chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
On the plus side, though, we earned a very creditable three points with a 0-1 win away at hard-to-beat Swansea at the weekend, meaning that we are currently top of the Premier League and two points clear of Manchester United after 10 games.
Of course, what those of us who stay right to the end know is that a last-ditch penalty converted by Eden Hazard took that Capital One tie into extra-time, enabling us to turn it all around and set up a quarter-final tie against the once impressive Leeds United in December.
Moreover, a header from Victor Moses which was the last meaningful contact anyone had with the ball in last night's Champions League tie against Shakhtar ensured that we are now joint-top of the group with seven points and optimistic about our chances of qualifying.
However, an equaliser three minutes from time at Swansea on Saturday did, unfortunately, mean that we got bumped off the top of the table. Probably only temporarily, though, given the way Manchester United are playing.
Anyway, just to be absolutely clear about it, here is the lesson emphatically taught by the last eight days (and by a lifetime of football-watching before that): in football, things can and do happen very late. Therefore never under any circumstances leave the ground until the referee, by blowing his whistle for the final time, indicates that it is safe to do so. And always consider the consequences of behaving otherwise. We could win the league and you wouldn't even know.
Even before Moses made everything all right in the end, last night's match had been distinguished by two remarkable goals.
Perhaps most significantly, there was the one struck from miles out by Oscar, whom we congratulate on becoming one of a very small number of players to have scored at the Shed End while standing in the Matthew Harding Upper at the time.
OK, perhaps that's a slight exaggeration, but he was only just beyond the centre circle when the ball fell to him and not much further forward when he hit it into the place where the goalkeeper would ordinarily have been, except that, in this case, the goalkeeper had decided, for reasons that were never entirely clear, to come out and play in the holding role.
There's something uniquely rewarding about a goal scored from enormous distance into an empty net, partly because of the inherent and timeless comedy value provided by a stranded goalkeeper, and also because one appreciates how difficult that shot is to pull off. Indeed, there are some grounds where, if Oscar had done what he did last night as part of the half-time entertainment, he would have won an Xbox 360, £50 to spend on games and a club goody bag.
And then, of course, there was the wonder strike after three minutes by Fernando Torres. And what a goal that was, as well. Very different, of course, from the Oscar goal and perhaps less of a contender for goal of the month. But still highly collectable.
Again, part of the appeal was the rarity value, because you don't see too many goals scored by players whose eyes are closed and who are adopting the brace position, as recommended by stewardesses in the unlikely event of crash-landings in aeroplanes - although, on further reflection, one recalls Frank Sinclair getting a couple of own goals in that style. (Happy days.)
Of course, people will sneer and say, 'But Torres just gets in the way and the ball cannons off him when the goalkeeper is trying to clear it.' It's hard to argue with that. But there's an art to getting in the way. Not any old striker can get in the way like Torres got in the way last night. You've got to know how to get in the way properly. It's why they pay him the big money.
Liverpool on Sunday. I kind of miss Liverpool, don't you? Remember the days when they were more than just another mid-table side and the two of us would meet as rivals on an almost equal footing to slog it out for the prestige prizes - places in Champions League semi-finals and finals, and top four positions in the Premiership?
Great times, but now, alas, long buried in the distant and dusty annals of the history that their fans are always singing about. Sad, but what can you do? Empires rise and empires fall, and it's always been the same old story. Ah, well. We'll always have the memories of the way it used to be, and so will they.