The 2006/07 campaign was one of the most epic in our history with plenty of late drama throughout, including when we traveled to Watford...
There is no real reason why three points at the end of the season should feel more valuable than those earned earlier in the campaign, but they do. The reason is timing.
That was demonstrated in a 5.15pm kick-off at Vicarage Road on 31 Mar 2007. Not for the first time that season, the back-to-back champions had to watch leaders Manchester United play earlier and win, this time at home to an insipid Blackburn. ‘The truth is,’ Jose Mourinho noted, ‘United are very, very lucky with the fixtures because, until now, they have always played before us.’
For their part, Watford desperately needed a lifeline in their relegation battle – they were 11 points from safety with 24 still to play for. Instead they would have Ben Foster in brilliant form, and nothing to show for it.
Frank Lampard, a cast on his wrist to protect a hairline fracture, was one of several visiting players thwarted by the Hornets’ goalie. Mourinho felt all his attacking players needed to be more decisive though.
‘The only good things today were attitude, belief, and the keeper Petr Cech,’ the coach would reflect afterwards. He did not like what he saw even at half-time, and made a double substitution: Salomon Kalou and Paulo Ferreira replacing Claude Makelele and Geremi. Chelsea now had a front three of Kalou, Didier Drogba, and Andriy Shevchenko.
When almost an hour had passed and Watford had still not been breached, the Portuguese took left-back Ashley Cole off for John Mikel Obi and switched to a back three. It was one of his regular gambits.
Watford sensed a chance and opened up, playing into Mourinho’s hands. ‘The last time we played them the team were in awe – they almost went autograph hunting,’ coach Aidy Boothroyd admitted later. ‘This time they stood up and could have won it.’
But not quite. Cech did have to make a few saves, and they proved crucial. In the 92nd minute Shevchenko worked an opening and angled a cross into the box for substitute Kalou, who met it sideways on, and steered a header that finally beat Foster.
The timing and the relief at securing a vital win meant the Blues mobbed the amiable Ivory Coast forward. The final whistle left the champions 17 clear of Liverpool in third, and six points behind United. There were seven matches still to play, though, including a home game against our title rivals.
‘If you hadn’t won, would that have been it?’, the Chelsea coach was asked post-match.
‘Mathematically it would have been possible,’ he responded. ‘That is the law and we have to respect it. But eight or even nine points – it is almost done.’
The win merely suspended the inevitable. The Blues’ formidable run of title success ended in early May with a 1-1 draw at Arsenal, rendering the United game irrelevant.