The Safest Hands

While watching the tribute videos dedicated to Petr Cech this week, I was reminded of a brilliant but almost forgotten moment of goalkeeping excellence by the Czech which helped the Blues to make history 15 years ago.

Following the announcement that he would be retiring at the end of this season, we have read and seen plenty about the most successful goalkeeper in Chelsea’s history, with much of the focus understandably on Munich in 2012 when he saved three penalties as we won the Champions League.

However, for all of his heroics in that final or in his other big games for the Blues during a highly successful 11 seasons at the Bridge, it was a save that he made at Portsmouth in the 2004/05 season which really caught my attention.

Chelsea had a very good record against Pompey during their spell in the Premier League from 2003 to 2010, winning 13 of our 14 matches, but Fratton Park was quite an intimidating place to visit at the time with the home side raising their game in front of their vocal fans.

On our visit there in December 2004, they nearly took the lead when Nigel Quashie tested Cech with a long-range effort in the first half.

Watching the video clip, you can see the Scottish midfielder’s right-footed effort start to the left with Cech tracking the shot and moving across goal to cover it.

However, Quashie put some serious bend on the ball, which suddenly swerves to the right in mid-flight, forcing Cech to change direction and twist acrobatically to his left to tip the ball over the crossbar with his outstretched left hand.

[You can watch the save here at the 10-second mark]

It was a spectacular save and proved crucial in the game as late goals by Arjen Robben and Joe Cole secured a 2-0 win, our third consecutive victory and clean sheet in the Premier League which kept us five points ahead of Arsenal at the top of the table

By the end of the season, that gap had grown to 12 as we brought the league title back to Stamford Bridge for the first time in half a century. But how different might things have been if Quashie’s effort had gone in that day?

If the Blues had not ground out the victory at Portsmouth, our lead over the Gunners might have been cut to two or three points ahead of a tough visit to Liverpool on New Year’s Day.

However, we won that game as well and our next match against Middlesbrough to move seven points clear of Arsenal, with our long-suffering fans starting to believe that the title drought might finally be coming to an end.

The momentum that had been building after our only league defeat of the season at Manchester City on October remained and our defence now seemed to have an aura of invincibility as Cech seemed able to stop everything that got past his water-tight defensive screen.

In the end, we set a new league record by going 10 games and 1024 minutes without conceding a goal while Cech allowed only 13 goals and kept 24 clean sheets in 35 league games to secure his first league winners’ medal.

Of course, the sense of belief that he gave to everyone at Chelsea with his incredible shot-stopping ability would help us to win many more trophies during his time with the Blues during the glorious decade that followed.

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