It is 15 years since one of the greatest seasons in Chelsea history, and our feature retelling the story of 2004/05 continues today with the first game in which we conceded...
‘There's no point in comparing a seven-week-old baby to a seven-year-old boy. We have made a great start to the season and things can only get better.’Steve Clarke
After three straight victories, each achieved with a clean sheet, to kick-off the 2004/05 Premier League season, suspicion was building among the Blues faithful. Those who had followed the club since the Eighties, and before, had seen enough ups and downs to last a lifetime - a curveball simply had to be heading our way.
The big surprise wasn’t that it should come against a Southampton side in turmoil following the departure of manager Paul Sturrock; rather, that it took the Saints just 12 seconds to deliver it.
James Beattie was the man to deliver the bolt from the blue, making the most of a misplaced Joe Cole pass almost straight from the kick-off to hammer a dipping half-volley over Petr Cech. Blues fans knew it would take something special to get past their thus-far unbeaten keeper - this was it.
So often a thorn in the side of Chelsea during the Claudio Ranieri days, Beattie had done it again. Only Ledley King had ever struck earlier in a Premier League game, and suddenly the Blues had our first setback to overcome under Jose Mourinho.
With a barnstorming response, the Blues created numerous opportunities, only for a combination of missed chances, exceptional goalkeeping and the heroic, goal-line defending of former Chelsea favourite Graeme Le Saux to keep the Saints in front heading towards the half-time interval.
Fortunately, Beattie’s fondness for scoring at the Bridge would extend to the wrong end of the pitch, too. Having scored a Goal of the Month contender in front of the Matthew Harding Stand, he treated the Shed End to a sneak preview of what they could expect to see on the Own-Goals and Gaffes DVD which inevitably would be opened up on Christmas Day.
With the reaction speed of a boxer who had just been on the receiving end of a right uppercut from Mike Tyson, Beattie simply stood and watched as Eidur Gudjohnsen’s heel flick deflected off him and past Antti Niemi for an embarrassing own-goal.
Another mistake led to the Blues taking what would prove to be a decisive lead before half-time; this time it was Claus Lundekvam at fault, handling a Frank Lampard corner under pressure from Didier Drogba. Protestations at a perceived push from the Ivorian fell on deaf ears and the referee pointed to the spot.
A whack to the eye earlier in the half which, according to the Observer, would have ‘stopped Henry Cooper’ and required two stitches, didn’t prevent Lamps from stepping up to the spot. Of all his 49 successful penalties for the club (57 including shoot-outs), this may just have been the least convincing as he slipped whilst kicking it.
Beattie, rarely far from the action in the first 45 minutes, grumbled to the referee about his team-mate for England hitting the ball twice on its way to the back of the net (celebrated top). It seems it wasn’t simply a case of sour grapes.
In the following matchday programme, a Q&A with Lampard invited him to select his creative moment of the month. ‘My penalty against Southampton. The way I managed to hit it, fool the goalkeeper with my two-touch, and too quick for the ref to spot it.’
It proved to be the last goalscoring action of the game, with the Saints unable to find an equaliser to punish a series of missed chances from the dominant Blues in the second half. We had made it four wins out of four, our best-ever start to a top-flight season.
‘You can't do better than take 12 points from your first four games,’ said assistant first-team coach Steve Clarke, a man who saw more than his fair share of tortoise-esque starts to a campaign during his playing days with the Blues. ‘Missing chances is not a concern while we are winning games - it might be if we were losing.
‘It's like Jose Mourinho said - there's no point in comparing a seven-week-old baby to a seven-year-old boy. We have made a great start to the season and things can only get better.’
Skipper John Terry praised the reaction shown by his team-mates after going behind so badly, writing in his next set of programme notes: ‘Look at the way we responded after they scored so early - the way we came back to win showed great character. We didn’t go crazy trying to get the goal back in the next five minutes, we were patient knowing that sooner or later the goals would come.
‘We had to defend at the end when they lumped the ball up to Peter Crouch. Big Pete came and got three or four crosses and we squeezed up as a team. Everyone has been calling us defensive, but what we’ve done is defend well.’
Perhaps the game was best summed up by Southampton’s caretaker boss, Steve Wigley, who was certainly happy to see the back of Stamford Bridge. ‘I wouldn't like to play Chelsea every week. They will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.’
- By Richard Godden - Chelsea matchday programme editor
You can watch a full recap of the 2004/05 season in Premier League Years on the 5th Stand app.