PAT NEVIN: TO HULL AND BACK
If he isn't analysing Chelsea games as a media pundit, Pat Nevin is often there just to support the team, as was the case this weekend on Humberside. Our former player reports on the experience in his latest column…
Travelling to see Chelsea play away from home right now is a lot of fun. That might illicit a few groans from those who remember disappointing results at Sunderland, Newcastle or even Stoke. In fact I am not specifically talking about the scores or even the actual play, more about the fun the Chelsea fans are having around the country.
Saturday at Hull was a case in point, the singing from start to finish from the Chelsea fans was glorious, sometimes a bit near the knuckle as it were, but almost always loud and usually pretty funny.
Even though the Hull fans in the East Stand nearest to the Chelsea support in the North Stand were affecting anger and showing a relatively hostile reaction, in reality they were having a ball reacting to a bunch of real fans, singing their hearts out and coming back with a bit of humour themselves.
I could only get tickets for the Nevin clan in the main West Stand (thank you Heron Foods), surrounded mostly by fairly well-to-do Hull folk, so it was a very different view being detached from the blue end for once. For all that the tickets in the main stand might cost a few quid more, I am sure very few sitting there really wanted to be with the smart-suited and those with cosy blankets on their knees. They secretly wanted to be where the real noise was, where the real atmosphere was and where the real fans were having a ball.
It was another fine win for the Blues and this time there wasn't really anything like the tension some other away wins have exhibited this season. This games seemed controlled and as the final minutes drew near with only a 1-0 lead, even the most pessimistic Blues fan must have realised the next goal was far more likely to come from Chelsea, just as it did when Fernando broke away to deliver the coup de grace with his left boot in the 87th minute.
Another one of the joys of travelling to the away games at the moment is that there is a realism and understanding added to the fervour. Up at Newcastle when we lost 2-0, there wasn't a show of anger from the Chelsea fans, who had yet again travelled in large numbers and made a hell of a lot of noise throughout. They knew Chelsea had dominated the possession without playing brilliantly, that Jose is in the midst of a transition period and that too much negativity would be of little or no use to the team.
This is a direct mirror of my memories of travelling with Chelsea when I was a player. We could get beaten, play poorly or snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and still the fans would applaud us off the field, making it perfectly clear they would be there to support us just the same next time round.
I was reminded of those days again at Hull when the home fans started singing to the Chelsea boys and girls, 'Where were you when you were ****?' Someone leaned over from behind me and said, 'Tell them you were playing Pat.' As I said the banter is good and even the cutting remarks were made with a broad smile on the faces of those watching.
The game itself was pretty fine fare with Eden Hazard once again stealing the show, even if there were plenty of others playing well. It was interesting to hear Jose's remarks that our Belgian could be worth £100million and that he tries to find the best position in each game where he can be most effective. My take for months (regular readers here and watchers of Chelsea TV will know) is that Eden could be one of the best players in the word, right up there with the likes of Ribery and Bale, and that what we should be trying to do is to get him isolated for one-on-ones with opponents.
The opposition are doubling up on him when they can, but that of course just creates space for someone else somewhere else.
As my career developed and I got more closely marked by more players I learned to spend a little less time dribbling past players, instead drawing defenders towards me and then threading through balls to others running into the space created. Eden is already learning that very quickly, but it is important to remember that when he can isolate a full-back he must always go and take him on, very few in world football are capable of stopping him just now when he is in full flow and on form.
The day after watching the Blues at Hull I was off to cover Newcastle v Manchester City and like many who watched it on TV, I felt the Toon deserved at least a point. City held on in the end but the weaknesses were there for all to see, they are far from invincible even if they remain favourites and have the deepest squad.
Without giving away too many trade secrets, a high tempo aggressive game doesn't suit them. Both full backs are fallible over the top and if Kompany gets injured they could be in big trouble through the middle. They might have won to go top and their home form is nothing short of stunning, but I really thought on Sunday night that Chelsea as a team can stay with them all the way this season, given a bit of luck with injuries.
The fun of travelling recently has of course been aided by the fact that Chelsea haven't lost an away goal in over six hours play, the three away wins on the bounce since the start of the year being a spectacular reward for the team's efforts. Maybe a special mention for Petr Cech along with the defence is warranted here. What it does however set up is a run of four games out of the next five at home, that can really ask some questions of those around us. The first is however among the most interesting games we may watch this season.
Davie Moyes brings his Manchester United side to the Bridge at the weekend and it should be quite an occasion. For all United's troubles, their league form has been impressive of late but they must know that defeat is not an option if they are going to have any chance of challenging this season. In fact I would suggest even a point isn't good enough for them and as such, United will have to be very positive and because of that we should have a pretty open and exciting game. It will certainly be more open than the game at Old Trafford earlier in the season anyway, but I think we all agree Chelsea have come a long way since then. The question is, have Man United? Maybe I'll sneak on Match of The Day 2 that night, to give a Chelsea perspective if I can. Let's hope it will be a positive one.
Last week I asked if there was a player you could name who had played for both Chelsea and Hull City? It actually foxed quite a few of you because there haven't been that many who have done so. Maybe the most popular answer was the much-missed David Rocastle who turned out for the Tigers 11 times after his spell with Chelsea. There were other correct answers; Jackie Crawford in the 1920s, Bill Barraclough and Sam Weaver both in the 1920/30s as well as Neil Clement.
There is as ever only one winner however and this week the randomly drawn fortunate chappie is Daniel Nieuwerf from Leytonstone, London. This week to have a chance to win a prize signed by one of the team, can you guess which player has played the most combined league games for Chelsea and Manchester United, having turned out for both? Answers to me at firstname.lastname@example.org