If the two goalless draws against Liverpool achieved by Stoke this season were great results, and the 2-1 victory over Arsenal was a fantastic result, what superlatives could have been used to describe the result the Potters were just minutes away from recording this afternoon at Stamford Bridge? Rory Delap had put Stoke a goal to the good after an hour, and that’s how the score stayed until the 88th minute when Juliano Belletti pulled the London club level. Stoke still reeling from that blow, Frank Lampard dealt one far crueler in the dying seconds of injury time, giving the hosts all three points and leaving Stoke, who had defended so bravely, with nothing.
I’ll keep my review of the game relatively short, as I’m truly gutted by today’s events, and it pains me to write about them.
Tony Pulis made one change to the Stoke side from last week’s home draw with Liverpool, new signing James Beattie starting up front alongside Richard Cresswell, who is rumoured to be in possession of some very compromising photos of Pulis and is using them to blackmail his way into the side, at the expense of Dave Kitson who dropped to the bench. Didier Drogba was left out of the matchday squad once again for Chelsea, while a recurrence of the back injury that has troubled John Terry for some time in the warm-up meant that Brazilian Alex partnered Ricardo Carvalho in the heart of the Chelsea defence.
James Beattie made an impressive debut for Stoke
Surprisingly, it was Stoke who made the brighter start, a Delap long throw causing chaos in the first minute, with Alex almost putting through his own net, the ball drifting just wide. Abdoulaye Faye then headed over from the resulting corner.
Chelsea soon settled into the attacking game they were expected to play though, and launched a host of attacks on the Stoke goal. If it were not for the inspired form of Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, who was the undisputed man of the match, the Blues would have been several goals up at the break. As it was, the heroics of the Dane, particularly in the latter stages of the half helped the Potters into the break with the scores still level.
The inspired Sorensen kept Stoke in the game
The second half begun as the first had ended, with Chelsea in the ascendancy, but Stoke took a surprise lead, very much against the run of play, on the hour mark. Ryan Shawcross played the ball high into the Chelsea box, and it was beautifully controlled by Beattie, who layed the ball into the path of Delap, who evaded two Chelsea defenders to clip a beautiful finish over Petr Cech and into the Chelsea goal, to the unbelieving delight of the Stokies who had made the trip.
The Stoke squad celebrates taking an unlikely lead
Minutes later it could have been even better for Stoke, Matthew Etherington just failing to connect with a ball into the box when the right touch would have doubled the lead. Chelsea soon began to push forward again, but the Stoke defence, inspired by our first ever away Premier League win. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, With two minutes of normal time remaining, substitute Franco Di Santo was picked out by a cross deep into the Stoke box. The young Argentine nodded the ball back across goal onto the head of Belletti, who guided it home to restore parity.
Things soon got even better for the 37,000 gloryhunters inside the stadium, as Frank Lampard hit the winner just five minutes later. The England midfield star picked up the ball on the edge of the Stoke box after it had been semi-cleared by the desperate defence and smashed it past Sorensen, with the help of a deflection from teammate Michael Ballack, and into the Stoke goal to give Chelsea all three points.
Belletti scores the equaliser and the Chelsea players celebrate Lampard’s winner with under-pressure manager Phil Scolari
Stoke pushed forward in the dying seconds, but to no avail, as Lampard’slate strike gave the hosts what was in truth a deserved win. That is not to say that it was not immensely cruel on Stoke, who had defended brilliantly throughout, and hugely disappointing for Stoke fans, but judging purely on the sheer volume of attacking chances created by Chelsea, they did deserve something from the game.
Nonetheless, it was a terrific performance by Stoke, and one that hopefully the players will be able to build on in the next league fixture with Tottenham on January 27th. Before then, the staff and squad are off on a training camp in sunny Dubai, and hopefully that will help to put this gutting match behind us, and come back stronger.
Stoke Side: (4:4:2)
Wilkinson Shawcross Abdoulaye Faye Higginbotham
Delap Amdy Faye Whelan Etherington
Substitutions: Pugh for Amdy Faye (28), Griffin for Higginbotham (34), Kitson for Etherington (83)
Subs not used: Simonsen, Olofinjana, Lawrence, Sonko
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