Posted on: Thu 12 Oct 2006

The new Chelsea squad's first run-out at the Bridge ended in a draw but there was little sign of tiredness during a second game in 24 hours, Shaun Wright-Phillips equalising an early goal conceded and many other chances going begging.


Had this been a competitive fixture then the Blues would be ruing some of the spurned opportunities. Salomon Kalou came closest to scoring a winner when he struck a post.


As it was a friendly then the focus can fall on an improvement in performance over the previous two games plus the promising sight of the side finishing stronger than opposition two games into its domestic season.


Inevitably given the game in Rotterdam yesterday, there was much shuffling of the pack when Jose Mourinho came to name his starting line-up.


Carvalho and Ferreira were the two retained in the back four although the latter moved to his more familiar right-back role after a stint as stand-in centre-back. Lampard began again, as did Robben, but apart from those, it was all-change from the Feyenoord start.


That meant Mikel John Obi was there at kick-off for the first time in a Chelsea shirt and Lassana Diarra began his first pre-season friendly. The formation was 4-3-3 and for the second game running, it remained so throughout.


It took until the seventh minute for Chelsea to shoot towards target for the first time. Diarra floated a ball out wide to Drogba in space. His first-time volley was well struck but aimed across the face of goal. Earlier, Jarosik, on his return to the Bridge, had looped a header harmlessly over for the visitors.


With their next attack Celtic scored. Ten minutes were on the clock when Nakamura's corner dipped into the box and centre-back Gary Caldwell, having manoeuvred away from Bridge, volleyed in from close range.


Lampard attempted to redress the damage immediately, striking a shot on target from 25 yards that keeper Boruc grabbed at the second attempt. On 15 minutes Drogba had two bites at the cherry after a slip by Celtic's scorer Caldwell. The first shot the Ivorian struck at Boruc from an angle, the rebound he blasted over.


Just two minutes later, a superbly waited ball inside the full-back by Mikel sent Robben away but lacking support, he eventually laid the ball back to Lampard who shot wide.


For a quarter-of-an-hour spell, Mikel John Obi became the prominent figure in the game. One peach of pass hit from a full 60 yards fell right into the stride of Drogba.


Bridge found Drogba midway through the half but McManus' last-ditch lunge blocked a goalbound shot.


Celtic, having been held back for the last 20 minutes, went close on 32 minutes when Miller nipped between Terry and Carvalho and volleyed just wide. Referee Poll spotted a deflection, Cudicini punched the resulting corner away and Chelsea broke through Robben.


Forty-yards into his run, the Dutchman was up-ended by Wilson who became that game's first booking. Carvalho followed him into the notebook on 36 minutes for tripping Jarosik.


The new young axis in midfield, Diarra and Mikel, linked up well to provide Wright-Phillips with a shot five minutes from the break. Boruc saved that time but the Chelsea man would do much better just five minutes later.


Just as the home side were preparing to face the interval in arrears, Robben received a throw-in and threaded a good ball to the edge of the area. Wright-Phillips tricked his way inside Caldwell and finished well into the bottom corner.


The game's friendly status means it won't count as his first official Chelsea goal, but that doesn't detract from a fine effort. The Chelsea players celebrated by holding up a shirt emblazed with the words, 'Rui ? we love you'. The Rui in question is the Chelsea fitness coach. The teams went in level at the break.


Mourinho's changes at half-time meant a first sighting in blue of Ballack and Shevchenko for the 20,807-strong Stamford Bridge crowd. They were on for Mikel and Wright-Phillips. Essien replaced Diarra and Geremi came on for Ferreira in two further switches.


It took a good save from Boruc on 52 minutes to prevent Shevchenko finding the net for the first time at the Matthew Harding End after good work from Robben, who was having influential game, and Lampard.


Chelsea were increasingly finding time and space. Shevchenko nodded back for Lampard to shoot wide via a touch from a defender. Then on the hour the two linked up again, Shevchenko making a thrilling incision down the right before Lampard's falling volley flew just wide.


With 25 minutes to go Chelsea made a double switch. Robben's work was done, Kalou his replacement while Hilario exchanged places with Cudicini in goal. Before the two had barely taken position, Ballack blasted a couple of yards over from 30 yards out.


Hilario distinguished himself with a save from Pearson on 72 minutes but a minute later at the other end, Chelsea hit woodwork. Carvalho of all people dribbled into the box for Kalou to strike first time against the post.


With 11 minutes remaining, Ballack picked out Shevchenko with a 25 yard ball but the Ukrainian's chest control was too strong.


The game was all Chelsea in the final ten minutes and there would be one final chance to win it. In the third and final minute of added time, a visionary reverse pass from the halfway line by Lampard (who like Ballack the previous day had been given a full game) fell for Drogba. He out-powered the last defender but leaning off-balance, the big striker could not keep his rocket shot down.


The game may not have started well, it may not have been won and the finishing may have lacked precision - but in terms of fitness and link-up play all around the pitch, this group of Chelsea players looks primed to take on Liverpool in Cardiff on Sunday.


Chelsea (4-3-3) Cudicini (Hilario 66); Ferreira (Geremi h-t), Carvalho, Terry (c), Bridge; Mikel (Ballack h-t), Diarra (Essien h-t), Lampard; Wright-Phillips (Shevchenko, h-t), Drogba, Robben (Kalou 66).


Celtic (4-4-2) Boruc; Wilson, Caldwell, McManus, Wallace; Nakamura (McGeady h-t), Pearson, Lennon (c) (Telfer 77), Jaroik (Riordan 73), Sno; Miller.


by Paul Mason