Saturday, January 7, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: January 9, 5:17 PM UK
Chelsea 2-1 Huddersfield
This was a day to give hope to the football romantics who fear the magic of the FA Cup died shortly after Wimbledon's historic triumph back in 1988.
Chelsea v Huddersfield was a blast from this competition's glorious past, with the David and Golaith clichés never being more apt. The squad that cost around £230m to assemble going head to head with a outfit put together for around £202,000, it was the ultimate mismatch and even with Blues boss Jose Mourinho sending out a second string side there could only have been one result - or so we thought.
The beauty of the FA Cup is that it hands travelling fans the opportunity to live out their dreams in such vast numbers. The normal allocation of tickets for a game at Stamford Bridge sees away fans stuffed into a corner to the left of the press box, but this competition has a different set of regulations so the entire Shed End was packed with around 6,000 fantastically enthusiastic Terriers fans.
This was their Cup Final and as kick-off began to loom, the noise they began to generate confirmed as much. Flags, balloons, and excitement oozed from their area was palpable. You could tell their enthusiasm was getting the better of them as they celebrated when full-back Danny Adams gave away a corner after a couple of minutes.
Just for a change, that same excitement was emanating from the oft muted Chelsea fans as this was an even more curious audience to the familiar Stamford Bridge regulars. Readers of The Insider will know I have previously suggested that many of the fans who come to support the reigning Premiership champions are doing it because it is the trendy thing to do among their pals at nursery school.
Never was that suggestion more true than today as with ticket prices slashed in a bid to attract a big crowd, gangs of kids screaming around the reporters perched just behind the benches as the teams made their way onto the pitch at 2.55pm made it seem a little more like a Westlife concert than an FA Cup tie.
Some of the kids sitting around the press box today were so young that they looked as if they still used a dummy stop them from dribbling. With 42,160 packed into this ground, it was a surreal atmosphere as you suspected many on hand had never been to a football match until this point in their young lives.
On a day when Chelsea made nine changes from the side that beat West Ham on Monday, Wayne Bridge, Lassana Diarra, Robert Huth and Glen Johnson were among the fringe players given a run out by boss Mourinho, yet Huddersfield were no match for their illustrious opponents.
Unable to get enough to the ball to cross the half-way line too often, it was a matter of time before they conceded the first goal and it duly arrived as Carlton Cole exploited some woeful defending to open the scoring after 11 minutes.
Ever the perfectionist, Mourinho had targeted Hddersfield right-back Andy Holdsworth as a weak link in his League One opponents and he had more than enough quality in his side to exploit the nervousness of the young defender. One of the secrets to Chelsea's remarkable consistency is the impressive movement Mourinho has drilled into all his star players and Damien Duff wasted little time in taking this game by the scruff of the neck.
It was the Dubliner's pass that set up Cole for the opener and he just had too much class for Huddersfield to handle. Every time he got on the ball, Chelsea carved out openings and it was Duff assists that handed Cole and Robert Huth chances before the break.
The never ending flow of Chelsea attacks continued apace after the break and the highlight of the afternoon for Huddersfield fans arrived as they won a corner in front of their own fanatical followers in the 55th minute. Captain Nathan Clarke's shot seconds later drew a huge cheer even though it flew well wide.
As Chelsea's focus began to waver in the final quarter of the game, Huddersfield sniffed a shock equaliser and in the 74th minute, the most stunning moment of the season to date came to pass. Fed by substitute Michael Collins, Taylor-Fletcher raced in on goal and as his shot bobbled under Carlo Cudicini and into the back of the champions' net, the sense of shock around the stadium was felt by all.
Those travelling fans could barely believe their eyes, while manager Peter Jackson marched down the touchline, arms aloft, to celebrate a goal to savour. Only the FA Cup can produce moments like this and had they held on for a draw, it may have been as big as shock as Exeter's stalemate at Old Trafford last season.
Predictably, Chelsea had the answer and Eidur Gudjohnsen's 82nd minute winner killed the Huddersfield dream, yet manager Peter Jackson has a right to feel content with the effort shown by his players. "I'm so proud of them," said the Terriers boss.
'We gave one of the best sides in the world a real game in the second half and if we had managed to hang on for the draw, it would have been the greatest moment of my managerial career. In the end, it wasn't to be and it's back to reality for us now.'
Mourinho stayed on the pitch to shake the hand of each Huddersfield player at the end of the game and his charity didn't end there. 'Jose invited all my players into his dressing room and gave them Chelsea shirts, which was a nice touch,' he said. 'Chelsea have been fantastic for us today and the only thing that we regret is that we didn't hang on for the draw.'
The Chelsea boss was oozing with enthusiasm for the Huddersfield performance. 'As they scored the equaliser, I was very worried we may have been going out of the FA Cup,' admitted the Chelsea boss. 'When you reach the final 15 minutes and the scores are level, the danger is one goal can kill you. At that point, I would have been happy to take a replay and for that, you have to give credit to them.
'The spirit they showed was incredible and they didn't show us too much respect. They came here to take us on and not to play a defensive game and they can be pleased with their efforts.'
Mourinho hailed Lassana Diarra as his star performer. 'He has had to wait for his chance, but I felt he was fantastic today,' he claimed of the Frenchman. 'I have told him he will be our squad for the next game as you have to reward players when they play like that. In an attacking and defensive sense, he was fantastic for us and we needed him to be.'
So near, yet so far. Huddersfield's moment in the spotlight is over for another year as they turn their attentions to a game against Scunthorpe on Tuesday night. Rarely has there been a bigger fall from grace.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Carlton Cole
With Didier Drogba away on African Nations Cup duty, Cole may get a run in the Chelsea side and he looked to be ready for the challenge. He may have missed a few chances, but may just be a better option that Drogba in the long run.
FOOD WATCH: A very tasty chicken and mushroom stew went down very well prior to kick-off.
FACE IN THE CROWD: England rugby great Laurence Dallaglio was on hand to cheer on his Chelsea heroes.
HUDDERSFIELD VERDICT: Had they managed to hang on to secure a replay, all the headlines would have belonged to them, but Chelsea just cannot stop winning. Unconvincing they may be at times, but success seems to follow them wherever they go.
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