Saturday, February 18, 2012
Draw piles further pressure on AVB
Kevin Palmer, Stamford Bridge
On a day when Andre Villas-Boas knew nothing less than victory would banish the suspicion that his reign as Chelsea manager will soon come to an end, his players delivered yet another resounding vote of no confidence in their manager.
This was a game the Chelsea boss simply had to win, yet that reality did not appear to resonate with his team as they spluttered through their FA Cup fifth round tie that so nearly ended with Birmingham snatching a winner which would doubtless have hastened Villas-Boas's exit.
We will never know what would have happened if young Nathan Redmond had snapped up a glorious chance to win the tie when he was clean through on goal three minutes from time, but it was clear that Villas-Boas was a man under the most intense pressure when he faced his tormentors in the media after this latest setback.
"We were not good enough, that is obvious when you only draw at home against a Championship side," conceded a slightly hoarse Villas-Boas, his red face doing little to disguise the pressure he is feeling just now.
"What this means for my future is not for me to answer. You have to ask someone else about that, but I remain confident I have the backing of the club whatever happened today or in the Champions League against Napoli on Tuesday.
"Still, this is not about me. This is all about the club. We are not getting enough good results to feel proud of what we are doing and all we can do is turn our attention to Napoli and try to make sure we raise our performance for that game."
Villas-Boas then reacted angrily to the suggestion that striker Didier Drogba conducted his own half-time team-talk, as he is hit back at suggestions his players were talking events into their own hands as Chelsea's season threatens to unravel.
"The ESPN reporters are saying Didier did a half-time team talk in the tunnel," claimed a bemused Villas-Boas. "Why would Didier be doing half-time team talks? This is ridiculous."
If Villas-Boas was not about to walk away from Chelsea with a multi-million pound pay-off for his troubles, a modicum of sympathy may be fitting for a novice manager who has been exposed for being woefully out of his depth at the highest level of the game.
Lacking experience to carry out the task handed to him last summer, his imminent failure is all too predictable and while Villas-Boas will soon become the scapegoat for Chelsea's demise, those who appointed him to succeed a two-time European Cup winning coach and a Double winning Chelsea boss need to look in the mirror before they point accusing fingers in the direction of their 34-year-old manager.
Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay was among those picked out by the ESPN cameras nodding his head in disgust at the efforts of AVB's team as they floundered with increasing despair during a desperate first half, which drew to a close amid a chorus of disgruntled jeers from the Stamford Bridge faithful.
The lack of noise inside a stadium swelled with more than 38,000 supporters made for a curious atmosphere in a first half energised by the vocal band of travelling Birmingham fans, who delighted in adding to Villas-Boas's discomfort with chants ranging from 'you're getting sacked in the morning', while also comically chanting the name of Jose Mourinho.
Meanwhile, Villas-Boas patrolled the touchline with his familiar mix of frantic arm waving, energetic squatting and hand clapping that was all conducted for his own, private comfort. Rarely did any of his players glance over at the touchline to draw inspiration from their boss, but thus has been the story for much of this ill-fated season.
While his side were a long way below their best against their Championship opponents, fortune had not shone on the Chelsea boss in a first half that has seen Juan Mata's 22nd minute penalty saved by Colin Doyle, with Daniel Sturridge and David Luiz both going close to reliving the pressure on their boss.
Villas-Boas was forced to change his team at the break and the inevitable removal of the hopeless Fernando Torres allowed Didier Drogba to return to the Chelsea fold after his failed African Cup of Nations adventure with Ivory Coast, yet it took 15 minutes for the home side to find the equaliser.
Sturridge had been Chelsea's most threatening player all afternoon and as he swooped to power home a well placed header after 61 minutes, Villas-Boas could dare to believe the week that could make or break his career as a Premier League manager threatened to ignite at last.
That goal should have fired Chelsea into life, but they continued to splutter through the final half an hour and should have been dumped out of the competition when Birmingham starlet Redmond found himself clear on goal three minutes from time. But he fluffed his lines just as glory beckoned by scuffing his shot at goal.
"Considering the opposition we were up against and the fact we were away from home, I would say that is the best performance of our season," stated Birmingham boss Chris Hughton. "Not only did we match a talented Premier League side for 90 minutes, we also had the best chance to win the game late on and we can look forward to the replay at St Andrews with optimism."
Jose Mourinho may be the name most Blues fans would like to welcome back into their lair, but the Special One will not be available until May at the earliest and Blues owner Roman Abramovich may not be able to wait that long to arrest this Chelsea slump.
Fabio Capello's sudden availability means a high profile replacement for Villas-Boas could be heralded in sooner rather than later and such is the agony being endured by the Chelsea boss right now, he may be relieved to get out of the mess he seems incapable of clearing up.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Curtis Davies. The big centre-back silenced Torres with ease and he handled Drogba equally handily in the second half. Davies and all the Birmingham defenders were magnificent.
INJURY UPDATE: Villas-Boas admits skipper John Terry is rated at less than 50-50 to play in Napoli on Tuesday night. "He is still having big problems with his knee so I believe he is a major doubt," says Villas-Boas. "We will take him to Italy, but I don't know if he can play."
BIRMINGHAM VERDICT: This was a superb effort from a side led brilliantly by manager Hughton. First with Newcastle and now as Birmingham boss, he has proved himself to be a wonderful tactician.
CHELSEA VERDICT: They show no sign of emerging from their slump and there must be real concerns that the crisis will reach breaking point against Napoli on Tuesday night. Villas-Boas, it seems, is living on borrowed time as Chelsea boss.