Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts

Near-perfect timing and imperfect endings have caught the eyes and ears of supporter Giles Smith as he explains in this week’s column…

 

That completes the trilogy, then. Three consecutive home games against three different teams from three different leagues in three different competitions. And in that phase, using three different line-ups, we have scored 11 and conceded one. Which, however you do the maths, is not too shabby, and certainly makes this past week a decent one in which to have been a season-ticket holder

And the most satisfying of those three games? Probably, all things considered, last night’s Carabao Cup tie against Nottingham Forest, what with Charly Musonda Jr’s full debut, including goal, celebratory touchline sprint and swan-dive, Michy Batshuayi’s first Chelsea hat-trick, and Antonio Rudiger perfectly finding Kenedy in the penalty area with a ball struck virtually from the southbound platform at Fulham Broadway.

Yet somehow equally encouraging were the scenes right at the end, in the solitary minute of time added-on (itself a rare occurrence), when most of our side had gone hungrily looking for a sixth goal, only for Forest to break and score with the last kick. You could have taken a number of snapshots at that moment (at least one player on his haunches, other players standing still with their hands on their hips or dejectedly trudging up the pitch) that would have made it look as though we had lost and were devastated. I don’t suppose the goal spoiled anyone’s evening for long, but the fact that it spoiled a few people’s evenings at all seemed to be indicative of a hugely promising earnestness about the team Antonio Conte selected and prepared last night.

On occasions like these, the experts will tell you, it’s all about discovering the depth that you have in the squad and assessing the strength of your resources in the key areas. That’s why it was especially pleasing to see Ethan Ampadu arrive in the second half – not just because he is merely 17 and yet already clearly possessed of an extraordinary degree of composure in the white-knuckle madhouse which is central midfield, but also because it was immediately clear that, in Ampadu, we have useful back-up in the hair department in the event that David Luiz ever, say, misguidedly clatters an Arsenal player and has to miss matches through suspension. 

On top of all that, in among the debuts, this was also the first 90 minutes of the season for a certain Eden Hazard, coming back from his ankle injury. Which couldn’t help but set you thinking: some pundits have already seen enough, after five rounds of Premier League fixtures, and have decided that the title is definitely going to Manchester, one way or another. Which, whatever else you want to say, seems mighty premature when you consider that, in the most literal of senses, Eden Hazard hasn’t even started yet. Last night was a reminder of just how early in the season it is. Things are barely underway.

On the topic of beginnings, against Arsenal it was utterly perfect, and last night it wasn’t far off. The playing of ‘Blue is the Colour’ before the match, I mean, which historically has tended to need a swift fade-out as the referee blows to get the game underway, but which last Sunday lunchtime, ran right through to its conclusion, with the ref’s whistle coming perfectly on cue after the final note.

Last night, the track got played in full again, although there was then a further short gap before the referee got the signal from the side-lines and did his thing. While the track played out, though, I did briefly wonder if the ref was waiting for it to finish before signalling the kick-off. Which would only be appropriate. Not so much ‘it ain’t over until the fat lady sings’; more ‘it ain’t starting until Chopper Harris has finished with the concluding chorus.’

Incidentally, it’s a popular misconception that ‘Blue is the Colour’ was the record that accompanied the team into the 1970 FA Cup final, when in fact, as last night’s programme reminded us, it was recorded two years later for the League Cup final against Stoke. It’s remarkable, from this distance, to think that an appearance in a League Cup final was once a momentous enough occurrence in the life of a football club to cause it to send its team into a studio to record an official single. Later only FA Cup finals and patently doomed England World Cup campaigns were deemed worthy of that response - and eventually nothing was. (Our own ‘Blue Day’ and ‘Blue Tomorrow’ in the 1990s – bona fide stompers, both - were the art form’s dying throes.)

Still, it’s heartening to reflect that the competition which drove the production of ‘Blue is the Colour’ – in other words, the competition which inspired the greatest and certainly the most enduring (45 years and counting) of football-related waxings – was the League Cup. Another reason to respect that great old trophy, as unfashionable as it is to do so these days. And another reason to respect ‘Blue is the Colour.’