Chelsea vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers : 4 February 2024
Away games are all well and good, but there is something strangely comforting about a home match at Stamford Bridge. It’s our base camp, the place where we return every fortnight or so, and a place where we, hopefully, feel at home, at ease. I felt that as I made my way to London. There wasn’t an enormous thrill about the upcoming game, but there was a feeling of contentment that I would be among friends in a familiar environment. That’s something that we shouldn’t take for granted in an increasingly stressful and fractured world.
Originally, the Chelsea vs. Wolves match was to be my second game of the weekend. However, I decided on Friday – after feeling so tired after the drive back from Merseyside on the Thursday – that I would forego Frome Town’s away game at Mousehole in Cornwall on the Saturday. Mousehole is around ten miles from Land’s End. I would be looking at a ten-hour round trip, with me getting back at 10pm. I would then need to be up at 5.45am on the Sunday. It was a no-brainer. I avoided the 370-mile round trip and vowed to attempt it next season. That Frome lost 2-3 made it all slightly easier to stomach.
At Stamford Bridge, I spotted that tickets were still available on the quaint and old-fashioned wooden display outside the entrance to the West Stand. For as long as I can remember, there has always been a “Sold Out” sign on match days. A sign of the times, I guess.
In the immediate vicinity of Stamford bridge were the usual assortment of over-dressed tourists (Chelsea shirt – check, Chelsea scarf – check, Chelsea cap – check) and over-stressed regulars. I said “hi” to a few familiar faces. I didn’t detect anything but an air of shared concern about our current form. I eventually made my way down to “The Eight Bells” at about 10.45am. The mood lightened a little as friends from near and far shared beers and laughs in the warm and cosy pub once more. On the return trip up to Fulham Broadway, Salisbury Steve and I had a brief chat with a stranger, clearly not a supporter of either team, and he asked us how we thought the game could go. We both chipped in with opinions.
“Could go either way.”
“Quite honestly we could win 3-1, draw 0-0, draw 2-2, or lose 3-1.”
Such is life at Chelsea at the moment.
With the dreadful 1-4 defeat at Anfield still fresh in our minds, we had genuinely tried not to think too much about the afternoon’s encounter with Wolves. Why let Chelsea spoil a lunchtime drink, right?
Inside Stamford Bridge, there was a subdued atmosphere. I chatted to a few friends as the place slowly filled.
The rather noisy new game announcer – come back Neil Barnett, all is almost forgiven – interviewed some young chap from a TV series that had avoided my attention over recent months, and it all seemed completely out of place before a Chelsea game. We come to Stamford Bridge for football, not fluff and nonsense.
I had to chuckle when the last of the three regular songs, “The Liquidator” raised a ripple of cheers from the away fans in the opposite corner. In addition to Chelsea using this song as a pre-game favourite, both Wolves and – oddly – West Brom have used it too. The song was banned at Molineux as long ago as 2002 on account of the home support piping up “Fuck Off West Brom” at a key moment. For the Wolves fans to hear it at Stamford Bridge obviously pleased them no end.
In the build up to kick-off, we were treated to the self-titled “Fan Cam”, a feature straight out of Major League Baseball. At least this sort of shite doesn’t happen during the game. Yet.
The players took to the pitch.
Gusto – Disasi – Silva – Chilwell
Enzo – Caicedo – Gallagher
Palmer – Nkunku – Sterling
Let’s see what Christopher Nkunku could do from the start. I was pleased that he was leading the attack. I spotted Conor and Malo having a little chat down below me. I also spotted Raheem and Christopher enjoying a similar chinwag too. I hoped that Sterling wasn’t saying “you run into space and I’ll just keep dribbling until I fall over myself.”
Chelsea in blue.
Wolves in red. What?
The game began.
Ominously, the visitors began the brighter and there were a couple of nervous moments in the first few minutes. The recently impressive Djordje Petrovic struggled to hold a low cross but there was no attacker waiting to pounce. Just after, a Moises Caicedo error and a Petrovic save from Matheus Cunha.
Just after, we stepped up a little and went close ourselves with a half-chance for Nkunku. On eight minutes, Cole Palmer cut inside from the right and had his first “sighter” of the afternoon but the shot was deflected out for a corner.
Ben Chilwell joined the “Top Tier Club” as he hoofed a clearance close to the touchline high into the East Stand. Back in its inaugural months, “The Chelsea Independent” used to run “The Top Tier Club” in honour of those players who had reached the third tier of the East Stand. It’s a rare occurrence these days. It must be years since it last happened. Maybe a Nicolas Jackson shot might get him an entry later this season.
We showed occasionally decent passages of play, but on nineteen minutes, we shone.
A pass from Enzo to Gallagher to Caicedo – all one touch stuff – and a superb through-ball into space towards a fine run from Palmer. A cool side-footed prod past the Wolves ‘keeper Jose Sa and we were 1-0 up.
I stood up and said to The Bloke Behind Me : “What? A forward pass from Caicedo into space? I need a moment here.”
Well, the moment soon passed. That man Caicedo clumsily lost possession in the centre circle and Wolves broke. Jaoa Gomes passed outside to Cunha, whose shot at goal was heavily deflected by Thiago Silva. Petrovic was left stranded. The game was level.
The game wasn’t of high quality and the few early glimpses of us playing as a team faded away. Wolves were able to attack us and stretch us out. Malo Gusto made an error, but recovered well. On the half-hour, the ball was played square to Enzo but his studied chip from distance was always rising. A Sterling effort had much the same effect. We were not creating much and those chances that we did create were sub-standard.
The crowd, quiet and concerned, were getting frustrated. A lone shout behind me, a few rows back :
“Come on Chelsea. This is gash.”
Just before the break, one of the Wolves centre-backs pinged a great ball out to their right. We were all over the place and I immediately sensed danger. Neto advanced and pulled a low cross back. Rayan Ait-Nouri pounced at the near post, but again Wolves were aided by a nasty deflection, this time off Axel Disasi. Petrovic was again unable to save.
We were 1-2 down.
There were loud boos at the break.
We were treated to a ridiculous display during the half-time interval involving two Chinese dragons fucking about along the West Stand touchline accompanied by some hideous clanging music. I may have seen something like this at the modern Stamford Bridge a few years back – I think that I attempted to erase it from my memory – but again this sort of fluff is just not needed at half-time of a particularly disturbing Chelsea match.
I had to double-check our personnel at the start of the second-half. Mauricio Pochettino had decided not to make any substitutions.
The second-half began and how. In the first minute, Gusto lost possession but Neto’s shot at goal was saved by Petrovic. Then, at the Matthew Harding, the move of the match. The ball was worked into Palmer, who had spotted the run of Chilwell down below us. His beautifully constructed chip dropped over the retreating Wolves defenders and reached the advanced left-back. He beautifully cushioned the ball to set Sterling with a cheeky touch behind him. We screamed in agony as Sterling’s effort was struck wide of the far post.
Five minutes into the second-half, the first noticeably loud burst of song of the entire match.
“CHELSEA – CHELSEA – CHELSEA – CHELSEA – CHELSEA CHELSEA – CHELSEA.”
You know how it goes.
Budgie shouted up to us from the row in front “don’t worry lads, Mudryk is warming up.”
“Warming up a kettle?” I replied.
On sixty-three minutes, an unlucky deflection allowed a rapid Wolves break inside our half and Neto ran ahead of the last defender. His cute cutback was side-footed home by Cunha.
“How easy was that?”
An orange flare found its way onto the pitch and its sulphurous fumes could be detected in the Matthew Harding.
The Wolves fans sang : “You’re fucking shit.”
Sadly, thousands of us responded : “We’re fucking shit.”
Nicholas Jackson replaced Caicedo.
I joked to the lads in front that usually when players are away on international duty for an extended stay, usually their worth to the team increases. It’s a standard football fact, isn’t it? Well, not once have I heard Jackson’s name mentioned in revered tones over the past few weeks of him playing in Africa.
While Stamford Bridge sang in praise of Roman Abramovic, a deep cross from Gusto on the right evaded everyone, but Jackson headed it down and wide.
On seventy-two minutes, Mudryk replaced Sterling and Carney Chukwuemeka replaced Nkunku. It’s a shame that Nkunku and Jackson only had nine minutes together.
As the game progressed, though, my worry was about conceding more goals, not scoring ourselves; a sad indictment.
On eighty-one minutes, Benoit Badiashile replaced Chilwell.
Just after, a terribly rash challenge from behind by Gusto and a clear penalty, which Cunha easily converted.
1-4 against Liverpool, 1-4 against Wolves.
Oh bloody hell.
However, a defiant “CAREFREE” rang out.
On eighty-six minutes, a Mudryk corner was headed in with aplomb at the near post by Thiago Silva. Bizarrely this gave us a modicum of hope and when it was announced that a further ten minutes of additional time were to be played, our spirits were – stupidly – raised further.
Those remaining inside Stamford Bridge drove the team on, but Wolves were no fools. They defended well as we tried our hardest to break into a goal-scoring position. I certainly found it frustrating that we appeared to play with more desire and intensity during those final fifteen minutes than the rest of the match.
We’re in a mess aren’t we?
See you at Villa Park on Wednesday.