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The greatest Chelsea comeback you've never heard about

The Blues' trip to Cardiff City on Sunday takes place 35 years to the day since we staged the most remarkable of comebacks against the Welsh side in a six-goal thriller at Ninian Park.

It is to English football's eternal credit that the phrase 'lost cause' doesn't exist in its lexicon unless prefixed with 'chasing a' or 'no such thing as a' – an enduring feature of the beautiful game on these shores, which has contributed to its popularity around the globe.

We've enjoyed a few of them in our time, the most famous of which have typically come in Europe when overturning a first-leg deficit, and Napoli and Vicenza instantly spring to mind. Then, of course, there is our famous FA Cup triumph over Liverpool after going in 2-0 down at half-time in 1997, a game which will always retain a special place in Blues folklore.

Surely, though, a side staring at a 3-0 deficit with just six minutes remaining is entitled to have given up hope. Start the team bus – there's no coming back from this one, boys. But just try telling that to John Neal's Chelsea side in the 1983/84 campaign, which remains an unforgettable season for those supporters of a certain vintage as we won the Division Two title to return to the big time.

The Blues had developed a reputation for magnificent comebacks in the Seventies – just ask the Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers sides who saw three-goal leads evaporate against us – but on both occasions time had been on our side.

Against Cardiff City, in front of a raucous Ninian Park crowd, the scoreboard and the clock were against us. With a little over five minutes remaining, the Blues trailed by three and the large number of our supporters who had made the trip to south Wales could have been forgiven for making an early exit.

However, as Neal noted, 'lesser teams than ours would have folded at that time' and an unlikely comeback began in earnest when Kerry Dixon hooked in a low shot. By this time he was well on his way to finishing as the top scorer in the division during his maiden season as a Blue, and surely this was just another strike to swell his tally.

It may have seemed little more than a consolation, but the lackadaisical manner in which Cardiff restarted the match instilled fresh belief into Neal's side, typified by right-back Colin Lee popping up on the left-hand side of the six-yard box to bundle in our second. Game on!

Then, with mere seconds left to play, a Cardiff City hand blocked a shot which travelled less than a yard before striking its target, surely accidentally? No! Penalty given! Nigel Spackman was the man entrusted to show nerves of steel. He didn't disappoint.

The home side barely had time to kick-off before the full-time whistle went. Somehow the Blues had snatched a scarcely deserved point, taking us level on points with Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle United at the top of the standings.

Remarkably, the post-match talk centred on a missed opportunity. Johns Neal and Hollins both remarked that an extra five minutes of playing time would have resulted in the unlikeliest of victories, although the latter felt the comeback was almost worth as much as a win.

'It's a lovely feeling to know we can go from three-nil down and come back to draw – so long as we don't do it too many times! The players know what they can achieve if they want something badly enough.'

It was an occasion young Dale Jasper would never forget, either. He had come into the side at centre-half for his Chelsea debut and he thought his family had been there to witness this most remarkable of contests.

'My parents had to leave the ground early because of some trouble – they thought it was all over anyway,' lamented the debutant. 'When we made it 3-3 I had tears in my eyes with excitement. It was unbelievable, the emotion, it really was.'

Days like these don't come around often, but the next time you're at a game and you think all is lost, don't give up hope. Stranger things have happened...

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