This season continues to be amongst the tightest and the least predictable in recent memory. With 75 minutes gone at Craven Cottage the old frustration was building up again and with good reason. Against 10 men and with the vast majority of the possession, we were struggling to break through against a well-organised and impressively stoic Fulham defence. It shouldn’t be a surprise and we must understand we are not the only team to suffer that frustration.
Fulham managed a draw in their previous game against Spurs at White Hart lane. I was at the Etihad a few days before when Man City squeezed past struggling Brighton 1-0 and Man Utd similarly got past Burnley with a single goal. Liverpool lost to the same score down on the south coast against Southampton.
The difference between success and failure in this league is tiny. Sheffield United are rooted to the bottom of the league having lost 15 games, but 10 of those defeats have been by a single goal. Even they aren’t that bad or that far away from having a decent season, but they only have five points!
With the margins wafer thin, every decision made can make the difference. Yet again the substitutions made by Frank Lampard had the desired effect. There were a whole bunch of options near the end. Should we bring on Reece James to add quality to the crosses from the right? Should he really take off Hakim Ziyech, who is always capable of delivering the vital ball? Which midfielder should be sacrificed Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic or Mason Mount? I know quite few people were arguing for Mason to be subbed but Frank stood by him, thank goodness.
That turned out clearly to be an inspired decision, as was the introduction of Callum Hudson-Odoi. His cross from the right-hand side, near the byline, the position I keep going on about that we have to get into much more often, led to sending the opposition defence into disarray and hence the goal for Mason. The importance of every single decision will be just as vital tonight against Leicester.
The weekend win was a mighty relief and got us back into touching distance of the top-four once again. Two dropped points at this moment would have left us bang in mid-table and the usual panic in certain sections of the media. Frank has made these kind of calls too often to be lucky. Just have a look at which team has scored the most late goals this season. As I write this Chelsea are right at the top.
It was incredibly tight down at Craven Cottage, but then it usually is. They may be undertaking a major impressive redevelopment of the stadium, but the pitch size hasn’t changed in decades and it is among the smallest in the league…and that makes a difference. Before the game I was reminded on my Twitter feed of a game we played down there that finished 5-3 many years ago. Kerry Dixon got a hat trick, I scored one but was much happier with my assist for Colin Lee.
I suspect this one could have gone a not dissimilar way had we got that early goal, which Mount nearly provided when he lashed it against the crossbar with their keeper Areola well beaten.
In the end Mason deserved to grab the headlines for his non-stop display although I do feel a little sorry for him that he gets a bit of ribbing for being ‘the teacher’s pet’ with the gaffer. He is the one that always seems to get picked to start now as almost everyone else gets rotated. I feel sorry for him because I used to get the same ribbing from my team-mates at Chelsea and indeed for periods at every club I played for. There was a classic line from our captain back then after I had missed a game away at Norwich with food poisoning that finished 0-0. Our gaffer then, the late and wonderful John Neal, said in the press: ‘ We really missed young Nevin’s creativity today’. Cue Patesy’s retort. ‘Bleedin hell, you get man of the match from the boss, even when you aren’t playing!’
It was said with affection and I think the sentiment is similar with Mason Mount. I think we all know how much he adds to the team, even when it doesn’t show up in the statistics of goals scored and assists. Mason is well capable of upping those numbers and I think he will soon enough. He is getting into great positions and even though sometimes in the system he is starting from a slightly deeper position than he did compared to when he first broke into the side, he is timing those runs towards the box better all the time.
He is also not afraid to have a few pot shots just now. Against a team like Fulham, who spent a great deal of the game camped, or more accurately, pushed back into their own penalty area, having a pop from 20 yards is often among the best options. In these situations the keeper is often unsighted by his own massed ranks of defenders and on top of that, any deflection is difficult to read. Mason’s goal against Morecambe, as well as his strike at Fulham were perfect examples of the benefits of long-range efforts.
Of course we know Frank Lampard used to score plenty in those sorts of situations and maybe some think Mason is the teacher’s pet because he reminds the manager of himself in many ways. Maybe there is a little something in that, but it is more about Mason’s own qualities and the fact that just now he is running into some of the best form of his young career. Two goals in two games might be the start of a run of goals that not only Frank has been demanding, but that Mason has been demanding of himself.
A third in a row against an inform Leicester side would be just the ticket. It should be a cracker of a game, it usually is these days when we meet. Chelsea and Leicester are two sides with attitudes and players and managers that are committed to attacking. Last season’s game up at Leicester was one of my favourite games of the year in terms of pure excitement I will not be surprised if this one matches it..