GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Posted on: Thu 18 Apr 2013

As a good Wednesday win begins to ease the Wembley pain, columnist Giles Smith puts Sunday's semi-final in historical context…


At 2-0, of course, one couldn't quite rest easy. This was a Wednesday night game, after all, and we've all had our fill of those this season, and the barking outcomes they have frequently thrown up.

Defeats to QPR and Swansea, draws with Reading and Southampton - these hard-to-reckon-with results all had Wednesday night in common, and, indeed, one came to feel, probably wouldn't have happened on any other day of the week. Even those of us who don't consider ourselves particularly superstitious have found ourselves feeling a little bit spooky at the edges about Wednesdays.

Plus this has also been the season in which an accomplished and seemingly comfortable 2-0 lead has just occasionally, and quite unaccountably, turned into an unhelpful 2-2 draw by the final whistle - and against teams whom you could think of as being a bit like Fulham, such as Reading and Southampton. (There was Juventus, too, though that was slightly different.)

But no. Not this time. 2-0 became 3-0, thanks to John Terry, and at that point one did relax - and realised, in fact, that one could have relaxed even earlier, if one had taken a more sensible and pragmatic view. Something about spending the last four months playing almost every other hour, as this squad has been obliged to, seems to be having a gelling effect, rather than an exhausting one. It's clear that this is a team now playing well beyond such things as Wednesday night hoodoos and a team more than capable of taking a lead and keeping it.

One notes the re-arranged Tottenham home game, potentially critical, is now scheduled for a Wednesday (May 8). Bring it on. Wednesday no longer holds any fear. And nor does being 2-0 up.

Was that the goal of the season that David Luiz scored at Fulham last night? It's definitely up there - nudging ahead, one might argue, of the one that Demba Ba scored against Manchester City at Wembley last Sunday, a goal of enormous finesse but perhaps lacking the spectacular, out-of-the-clear-blue-sky, 'Holy Potshot, Batman!' dimension of yesterday's effort.

David Luiz hit that ball from so far out, he was practically at East Putney tube station, and there certainly ought to be some sort of award for that. Maybe Gary Neville could present it.

D Luiz

On Monday, some corners of the press were marvelling at David Luiz's performance against City, heaping praise on his transformation since the early, so-called 'PlayStation' days, and writing about him as the next Chelsea captain. I don't think many of us would quibble with that, in due course - although, on last night's evidence, too, the current holder of the role doesn't look like he's yet done with it.

If you were at the FA Cup semi-final last Sunday, you can at least console yourself that you were present on an extremely rare occasion - at a highly unusual event, in fact. One for the album, in a sense.

A Chelsea defeat at Wembley - how often do those come along?

There was 1994, of course, and the FA Cup loss to Manchester United in the tipping rain. And there was that puzzling Sunday in 2008 when, after taking the lead, we somehow contrived to lose the Carling Cup Final to Tottenham. (I seem to remember an unnecessary penalty and then, in extra time, a weird ricochet off Jonathan Woodgate's head having something to do with it.)

Before that, though, and removing Community Shields from the equation (which surely we must, for all that Jose Mourinho was forever encouraging us not to do so), you would have to transport yourself back through more than 40 years, all the way to 1972 (League Cup Final, lost to Stoke), in order to be able to enjoy the privilege of trudging back up Wembley Way with a glum expression on your face.

(And that, surely, is why we have to remove the Community Shield from the equation. Has anyone ever been made truly glum by losing the conventional season-opening friendly - glum for more than a minute or so? Even that time when it was Manchester United, on pens? Everybody knows the Community Shield is, in the end, a holiday from football. That's sort of what it's for.)

Four decades, then, with minimal amounts of gloom at Wembley. Which, of course, wouldn't mean very much if ours was the kind of club that never ended up at Wembley in the first place. But, the fact is, in recent years, we've practically taken out debentures there. By my calculation, Sunday's was our sixth trip that way, for FA Cup semi-finals alone, since 1994. Then there were the seven finals, six of them triumphant, making 13 Wembley trips for properly competitive purposes in the past 19 years. Little wonder that sometimes you'll see something going on at Wembley on the television and find yourself thinking, 'What's that bloke doing in my seat?'

So, take this away, at least, from last Sunday's experience. Yes, the result was a bit of a shame. Yes, we should have had a penalty when Vincent Kompany didn't so much grab a hold of Fernando Torres's shirt as attempt to pull the garment over the striker's head and then tie a reef knot in it. And yes, City should have been down to 10 men after the mist descended on Sergio Aguero and he tried to use David Luiz's backside as a trampoline.

But, for all that, and the attendant, niggling feelings of dissatisfaction, as someone who saw Chelsea lose at Wembley, you were the privileged witness of a rare moment - of something which only infrequently happens in the natural world. Think of it as like witnessing a whale off the coast of Cornwall - not really the main reason you went there, but definitely something to tell people about in future years.