PAT NEVIN: TIGHT MARGINS

Posted on: Tue 26 Feb 2013

In his column midway between visits to Manchester and Middlesbrough, former Chelsea star Pat Nevin looks at the tight contest to make the top four…


Without being a golden period, Sunday saw the team turn up to the Etihad having only lost one of the past 11 games, albeit there were a few too many draws in there that could have been wins. The City game was always going to be tough and it needed the best display possible from the team, but what happened was I thought something a bit below par while City were clearly up for it.

Of course it could have all been so different had Joe Hart not made such a great save from Frank's penalty. Anyone tuning into Match of the Day 2 on Sunday night would have noticed my analysis and even though City had much more of the possession, it came down to a few misjudgements by players and sometimes you just have to put your collective hands up when it happens and then move on.

It must have been a tough call for Rafa to leave JT out and put David Luiz back in central defence. The central midfield pairing of Frank and David has looked pretty special in that area, but to be fair I think Mikel had just about his best ever game for us against Sparta Prague at the Bridge last week.

His reading of the play was excellent; he broke up everything, tackled well and passed extremely positively. The manager must have thought it was worth the risk and although Mikel was caught in possession against City a couple of times, he didn't have a bad game by any manner of means.

The painful part however is that quite a few times now the team has been on the brink of putting clear blue water between us and the chasing pack and it has not happened. That said I am sure Arsenal fans are saying the same about their team and even Spurs have slipped up unexpectedly, while Everton will be kicking themselves more than anyone with the leads they have thrown away. Their chances of a top-four finish don't come along that often. Time and again they have shot themselves in the foot just when it seemed that Champions League positions were in their grasp (Ouch! That was a rather painful mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean).

What it makes for is a tense end to the season with no certainty yet that the Holy Grail of the Champions League is secure for anyone outside Manchester. There is of course the small matter of the FA Cup looming tomorrow night at the Riverside. Clearly this cannot be taken lightly either, as Brentford showed that anyone can give you a good game on their day, especially away from home.

With Manchester United waiting in the wings it is a game I desperately hope we can win. I would argue that this is the best chance of silverware still available this season and it would be great to successfully defend the old trophy. The Europa League is still a very, very tough call, so let's hope that Middlesbrough is just one stop on the way to what will be another Wembley finish to the season.

At the weekend a resurgent West Bromwich Albion turn up at the Bridge, a club with two characters we should be very interested in, Stevie Clarke and Romelu Lukaku. Neither will be on the field of play but both have huge good will in west London.Clarkey is an old team mate from my days on the wing at the Bridge and we had a pretty handy partnership down the right-hand side for a few years. Having known him for so long it is no surprise to me whatsoever that he is being very successful in his first managerial stint.

Having watched David Moyes do just about as much as you can with a club of Everton's stature and wealth I think Stevie Clarke is in much the same mould, which from me is high praise indeed. The only oddness with Steve is that even though he has been at Newcastle, West Ham and Liverpool working with many of the greats, it just looks slightly odd not to see him working for us.

As for Romelu, it is perfectly clear that if he is not already a huge star; he is going to be mega, as the kids say. It must have been another tight call on whether or not to take him back in the January transfer window, but his learning curve has been exponential at West Brom and being a bit part player in the second half of the season may not have helped him, even if it had helped us in the short term. I suspect by the start of the next season Stevie Clarke may find it pretty damn difficult to persuade Chelsea to let him stay another six months.

Romelu Lukaku in action for West Brom

Last week's question was, which former footballer played for the most professional London clubs? Well I met him last week in a west London TV studio and then met him again just a few days later at the Sparta game. It was of course Clive Allen who was at QPR twice, Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Spurs, West Ham, Millwall, Chelsea of course and even the London Monarchs of NFL Europe!

Most got it right but there can only be one lucky winner and this week chosen at random it is Andrew Brayson from London, Ontario Canada.

To stand a chance this week of winning a Munich Champions picture signed by Branislav Ivanovic, could you tell me what was the score the last time Chelsea played Middlesbrough in the FA Cup? Answers as ever to me at pat.nevin@chelseafc.com and remember to say where you come from.