At the start of a week in which we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of our first Premier League title, we continue our series retelling the story of the season by recounting the end of a record-breaking Chelsea run...
‘Before the match I told myself it would be nice to achieve 1000 minutes when I'm so close to it. I achieved that so I can be satisfied.’Petr Cech
When the Blues made the trip to Carrow Road to face Norwich City at the beginning of March 2005, we did so atop the Premier League standings and in the midst of an incredible run of clean sheets which stretched back to the middle of December.
Petr Cech and his defenders, not forgetting the critical role played by Claude Makelele, had last conceded a league goal when Thierry Henry’s controversial free-kick caught out the Czech goalkeeper in a 2-2 draw with Arsenal. Eighty-three days, amounting to 1024 minutes of Premier Leage action, would pass before the Blues No1 was required to pick the ball out of the back of his net again.
‘I once kept 10 clean sheets in a row for Sparta Prague,’ Cech revealed in an interview with Chelsea magazine midway through his first season at the club, ‘but everyone knows the defence here is special. Every defender in our squad is a great player. We are always solid and strong, not conceding goals against great teams in the Premiership.
‘I’m extremely satisfied with how it’s gone in the early stages of being at such a big club. Of course I wanted to be the first-choice goalkeeper, but I didn’t anticipate how it would go.’
Not bad for someone who only gave goalkeeping a go because it was a position he had played on the ice rink, back in the days when he had dreamed of following in the footsteps of his idol, Dominik Hasek.
He certainly wouldn’t have expected to see his clean sheet record come to an end against a side destined for relegation, despite the best efforts of owner Delia Smith earlier in the week when she took to the pitch at half-time of their game against Manchester City to ask of the supporters: ‘Where are you? Let’s be ‘aving you!’
While the noise generated inside Carrow Road was impressive, the football on display from the Canaries was lacklustre and it came as no surprise when Joe Cole gave us a deserved lead.
The goal came as a result of the effort and endeavour Mourinho had been urging from his creative talent, who was looking to fill the void left by the injured Arjen Robben. One challenge put him down but failed to dispossess him and he quickly picked himself up to stand strong and retain possession in the face of another attempt. Then: bang! A rising left-footed strike from the edge of the box left Rob Green grasping at thin air.
Having been decisive when entering the game from the substitutes’ bench, Cole had finally scored his first goal of the campaign when starting a game.
‘Earlier in the season I saw Joe doing fantastic things but sometimes disappearing a bit from the game,’ said Mourinho. ‘But recently he’s played very well. He is winning tackles, defending well, showing a very good reaction when the team lose the ball and he's confident one against one.
‘This was his most consistent performance. At the moment he’s confident, playing well and showing his talent. I’m very happy.’
Cech soon surpassed the 1000-minute mark without conceding a goal, moving ever closer to the English league record of 1,103 set by Reading goalkeeper Steve Death in 1979. Another game on top of that would have been required to beat Chris Woods’ British record, which came during the former England no.1’s time with Rangers.
It was soon time to put down the calculators, though. For once, the Blues defence failed to snuff out the danger early on, allowing the ball to bounce through to Leon McKenzie on the edge of the box. The big striker had time to knock the ball out wide and continue his run into the box and head the return cross past Cech. Of all the elaborate attacks repelled over the previous three months, the simplest of moves had undone us – but there was no sense of bitterness from the Chelsea no.1.
‘Before the match I told myself it would be nice to achieve 1,000 minutes when I'm so close to it,’ he said. ‘I achieved that so I can be satisfied.’
In response to conceding for the first time in the Premier League in 2005, Mourinho threw on Mateja Kezman and Eidur Gudjohnsen in place of Tiago and Didier Drogba.
‘At 1-1, anything can happen,’ said Norwich boss Nigel Worthington, ‘and then you turn around and see Gudjohnsen and Kezman coming on. That’s the strength in depth they’ve got.’
It was 25 years ago this month that Mike Tyson, seemingly unbeatable in the heavyweight boxing division, was knocked out by James “Buster” Douglas. The Blues, like Tyson before his 10th round KO, were on the ropes, the cloak of invincibility slipping; Cech was called upon to produce a fine save from Damien Francis’ header.
However, the character of this side spoke for itself, and just seven minutes after the shock of conceding we were ahead once more. Gudjohnsen, revelling in the new-found freedom bestowed upon him by a manager who would later describe him as the ‘blond Maradona’, clipped a delightful pass over the top of the Norwich defence for Frank Lampard. Although it was a rare instance of the Blues no.8 not taking a guilt-edged chance, Kezman was on hand to tap in. It was a typical poacher’s goal, the likes of which had been seen far too seldom from the Serbian striker as he netted his first Premier League goal from open play.
‘I think we forgot a little bit to kill the game,’ said Mourinho. ‘In the second half, they put pressure on us and their goal was a great goal in the air.
‘But after that, the good thing was our mental reaction. The team was fantastic, the way they reacted and turned the game around.’
A first league double over Norwich at the 16th attempt was made safe by Ricardo Carvalho, who rose highest to head home a corner and net his first goal for Chelsea. Eight points clear and with a game in hand; no one at the club was tempting fate, but that didn’t stop the press.
‘Mourinho is being compared to Brian Clough OBE (Old Big 'Ead),’ wrote Ian Ridley in the Observer. ‘At this rate, it won't be long before he has an OBE of his own – Over By Easter.’
- By Richard Godden - Chelsea matchday programme editor
This Thursday 30 April at 8.30pm UK time, there will be a special watch party of the victory over Bolton that sealed our first Premier League title live on this website.