The last day of the league season can always throw up drama, and with it all to play for again this weekend, we have looked back on a selection of previous occasions when it went down to the wire for Chelsea, with different prizes up for grabs...
Tomorrow the Blues host Wolves at Stamford Bridge knowing a point will guarantee us Champions League football next season. A Manchester United victory at Leicester will also secure us fourth place, but the permutations haven't always been so clear, as our examples of final-day drama below prove...
When we hosted Everton on the last day of the 2012/13 Premier League season, we were occupying the final automatic Champions League qualification spot, meaning we needed to maintain our one-point advantage over Arsenal to hold on to third place and avoid the qualifying rounds. With 15 minutes left things weren’t looking good, as Arsenal led and we were being held to a 1-1 draw by the Toffees, but Fernando Torres volleyed in to give us the 2-1 victory we needed to finish third in Rafa Benitez’s last game as Chelsea manager.
Just one point separated Chelsea and Manchester United at the top of the table on the last day of the 2009/10 Premier League season, with the Blues sat in first place. That is how it remained at the end of the day thanks to our joint-biggest win ever in the league, in a year full of high-scoring victories and record-breaking performances, as we thrashed Wigan Athletic 8-0 at Stamford Bridge. Those goals included a hat-trick for Didier Drogba, which ensured he won the Golden Boot ahead of Wayne Rooney.
It has been labelled as one of the most important games in Chelsea’s history and for good reason, as this 2-1 victory over Liverpool made sure it would be us and not the Reds who were competing in the Champions League for 2003/04, a rarity for the Blues at the time. That no doubt helped convince Roman Abramovich that Chelsea were the club for him, as he became our owner that summer and we never looked back. Jesper Gronkjaer famously curled in the winner, but it is actually Marcel Desailly who deserves much of the credit for his headed equaliser, as we only needed to avoid defeat to end the season above Liverpool.
At the end of a campaign blighted by inconsistency, Chelsea travelled to already-relegated Manchester City knowing if we avoided defeat we would secure sixth place, and with it a UEFA Cup berth for 2001/02. If we did lose at Maine Road, Sunderland could leapfrog us with a win at Everton.
In the end the Black Cats could only draw, having trailed twice, but Claudio Ranieri’s Blues got the job done nonetheless. After Dennis Wise’s opener was cancelled out, Golden Boot winner Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink fired in his 23rd league goal of the season to seal a 2-1 victory, although our European run the following campaign would end in a humiliating defeat to Norwegian minnows Viking Stavanger.
Under the guidance of John Neal, a reshaped Chelsea side took the Second Division by storm in 1983/84, deservedly confirming promotion with a 5-0 thrashing of Leeds at Stamford Bridge that included a perfect Kerry Dixon hat-trick.
Three matches still remained, and with Sheffield Wednesday holding a five-point lead over us, it looked like we would go up in second place. However, they picked up a solitary point from their next two fixtures, while we beat Manchester City and Barnsley to edge ahead of the Owls on goal difference. More than 10,000 Chelsea fans travelled north for our final fixture, at Grimsby, and not for the first time Dixon proved decisive, heading the only goal. Wednesday also won, but our superior goal difference saw the Blues crowned Division Two champions.
Tommy Docherty’s young team headed into their final Second Division game of the season, at home to Portsmouth, knowing victory would secure promotion back to the top flight ahead of nearest challengers Sunderland, who had already completed their fixtures. Following a weather-affected pause in the season Chelsea had wobbled, but victory at Roker Park in our penultimate game meant promotion was in our own hands.
An expectant crowd of 54,000 packed Stamford Bridge, and any nerves were settled by Derek Kevan’s second-minute goal. After that, Portsmouth collapsed and further efforts from Frank Blunstone, Terry Venables and four from Bobby Tambling, taking his total to 37 for the season, saw us home 7-0. In those days, goal average was used to separate teams on equal points, as us and Sunderland were (52), so we were promoted by 0.401 of a goal.
Ted Drake would go on to become one of the most significant figures in Chelsea history but his first season as manager did not go well. Although a moderniser (he quickly banished the old Pensioner nickname and image and called for more partisan support) and a shrewd operator in the transfer market, the former England centre-forward’s alterations took time to have an impact and his team went two months up to Christmas in 1952 without taking a single point. It may have been a blessing for supporters that the winter fogs of the era made some matches hard to follow from the distant Stamford Bridge terraces.
We reached the final day of the season knowing only victory at Stamford Bridge would guarantee safety (as was the case two years earlier). Manchester City were the opponents. Given our position, the last thing we could afford was to waste goalscoring opportunities but that is exactly what we did, although we were not made to pay. Drake’s side should have been 4-0 up before, at last, Johnny Harris side-footed in a penalty. It was soon 2-0, when amateur centre-forward Jim Lewis beat Bert Trautmann from close range from a pass lofted into the penalty area but the anxious end to the season continued when City scored from their only breakaway of the first half. However winger Eric Parsons, beginning to justify his club-record transfer fee after a shaky start at Chelsea, found Johnny McNichol who scored to make it 3-1 in the second half and the Bridge could begin to relax.
It was Chelsea’s best performance for a while and something was happening at the club. Nine of the side that beat City were mainstays of the team that won our first league title just two years later.
Despite the presence of the great Roy Bentley early in his Chelsea career, the 1950/51 Chelsea side under the management of Billy Birrell found itself in dire straits. Seemingly knocked back by the most unfortunate of FA Cup semi-final defeats by Arsenal the previous season, our form had collapsed and with four games to go, we were bottom of the table, four points behind Sheffield Wednesday and six behind Everton, the two teams immediately above, and this was in the days of only two points for a win. We are without a victory for 14 games. It appeared to most that a two-decade stay in the top flight was coming to an end.
Yet we somehow managed to beat Liverpool and Wolves, with luck going our way, and then in a game away at Fulham our neighbours missed so many chances the Chelsea fans sang ‘Dear Old Pals’. That third victory in a row meant there was a chance of staying up when Stamford Bridge hosted Bolton on the final day. Forty-thousand hopeful fans turned up and were given plenty to cheer by two Bentley headers and two goals from emerging star Bobby Smith. Despite the 4-0 win there was an anxious wait for the scoreline from another game. Sheffield Wednesday and Everton were playing each other. The Yorkshire side won 6-0 and us, them and the Toffees all finished on 32 points. Just two clubs were relegated back then and rather than goal difference, goal average was used separate sides. Despite their bigger win, Wednesday joined Everton for the drop. Chelsea had escaped by a mere .044 of a goal! Truly the barest of margins.