Pat Nevin: Fabulous opportunity

Though there was disappointment on Sunday, the chance is there for a proud day this weekend writes Chelsea legend Pat Nevin in this week’s column…

It is difficult to know who was the most fed up after the game at the weekend. Obviously the players would have been less than delighted by the performance and the result, which goes without saying. Antonio Conte’s face and his comments after the match also managed to convey some of his emotions. I suspect there was a simmering volcano inside that he just about managed to keep in check because he knows that the next game is more important.

There was also a large contingent of fans around the world who were pretty much stunned by the three-goal loss. I had a particular consideration for those who travelled to the game from London, and indeed a lot further, and those who live in the north and only get to see the team in the flesh every now and again were surely fairly gutted when once again our bogey team Newcastle put us to the sword.

I actually wasn’t at the game, though I have watched it since and I never thought I would say this, but in the end it was actually a slightly better option to go where I was sent, Liverpool v Burnley! It was sad from a Chelsea perspective to see the Reds not pressured on the day after we managed only one point out of the last six, but I have felt for a while the turning point came some time back against Spurs in the second half at the Bridge.

To be fair, and I always try to be, Liverpool and Mo Salah in particular did play some very attractive football on Sunday. Our old boy Mo is basically impossible to think badly of no matter who he is playing for because of his attitude and his love of the beautiful side of the game.

Even though I was surrounded by celebrating Liverpool fans, which is suboptimal as I am not only a former Chelsea player but a former Everton one too, I wasn’t even close to being the person I felt had most to complain about. My son had a choice between going to watch either of his two football loves, which I share. In the end his season ticket for Hibernian was loaned out and he chose the Chelsea game instead.

As we suffered the ignominious defeat to Rafa’s men, the Hibees were in a 5-5 classic thriller against Glasgow giants Rangers which culminated in a 93rd-minute equaliser for our Edinburgh side. So, not a great decision from young Simon.

I later comforted him by explaining that this was nothing in comparison to a decision I made a few years back. Hibernian were in the Scottish Cup final, a trophy they hadn’t won for well over 100 years and they were facing their arch rivals Hearts. I had the choice of working for TV at that game or else I could go the same day to a little match happening on the continent between Bayern Munich and Chelsea. I stupidly chose Hibs and watched them get thumped 5-1 in the Scottish Cup while to everyone’s surprise Chelsea lifted the Champions League trophy in the biggest day in the club’s history. That is still right up there with the worst decisions of my life, yes even worse than that penalty attempt against Man City at Stamford Bridge!

This is a long way of saying football has some incredible ups and downs which football fans fully understand. Sometimes you simply have to suffer a bit and that makes the triumphs all the sweeter. Chelsea have been in pretty good form lately and even the slip-up against Huddersfield wasn’t really about poor play, more about poor luck in that we had the most of the chances and just about all of the possession. Had we garnered all of the last six points it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, Liverpool would still have beaten us on goal difference.

If however we can turn things around in time for the weekend then suddenly the Newcastle game will mean nothing. Antonio among other comments said, ‘We just have to forget about that defeat,’ which is a very unusual thing to say but he is definitely right. To dwell on that performance would be a huge negative before playing in what should be a fabulous opportunity for glory and redemption at the end of the season.

FA Cup finals are magical and shouldn’t be played under a cloud either literally or metaphorically. It should be a showcase day when you give everything, you bring your ‘A game’ and you walk off the Wembley pitch with fabulous memories and with any luck a winner’s medal. You could also walk off that field as a Chelsea legend and that is well worth fighting for. I know the pain of losing an FA Cup final and it lives with you, even if it was a classic that ended 3-2 after extra-time against (you guessed it) Liverpool in my time at Everton.

The two things that saved me from brooding too long were firstly, it was the year of Hillsborough and that really put my ‘suffering’ into sharp perspective; I did after all only lose a football match. Secondly, I knew I had given everything that I had in that match; there was nothing left in the tank after 120 minutes of ultimate exertion in that searing heat.

If every Chelsea player feels the same about their own efforts come Saturday night, then I have great hopes that we will win and even if we do not, all of us Chelsea fans will still be proud of them. It would also be great for Antonio to be able to say that in two seasons he has won both the league and the FA Cup. In times gone by that would definitely have had him marked down as a legendary manager in this club’s history.

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