Saturday, December 29, 2007
ESPNsoccernet: December 30, 12:28 PM UK
When cheers turn to jeers
Chelsea 2 - 1 Newcastle United
It is hard to know where to start summing up the events of this extraordinary afternoon at Stamford Bridge.
We may have come with the intention of issuing the last rights to Sam Allardyce's troubled reign as Newcastle manager, but a more accurate assessment of the day's happenings may be that this was the beginning of the end of Avram Grant's controversial reign as Chelsea manager.
Few Blues followers wanted the unheralded Israeli when he replaced Jose Mourinho back in September and, for the first time, the Stamford Bridge faithful let it be known in a very public manner that they are growing to dislike the manager whose dour appearance makes him hard to love.
It was after Grant removed Joe Cole from the action early in the second half that the fans turned on the Chelsea manager with real hatred, screaming 'you don't know what you're doing' at the top of their voices. Around 25,000 of them even howled in despair when he removed Michael Ballack late on, clearly intent on abusing the unpopular coach whatever decision he made.
In the end, Grant was saved from a verbal flogging by an 87th minute decision that defied any kind of reason. Salomon Kalou was clearly three yards offside when he tapped a winning goal past Shay Given to give Chelsea a win they barely deserved.
While Grant claimed he didn't see the goal on the replay, you suspected his guarded media briefing was that of a man who knew he got out of jail. 'I have not seen the replays in the goal, but I believe the people that tell me we had some luck,' stated the ever dour Grant.
'We created eight or ten chances and should have won long before the end. Maybe we were due a lucky decision and I like to thing I had some influence on the game with the decisions I made with the substitutions. Some of the fans were disappointed when I changed the system, but I feel it worked for the team and I'd do it again. The supporters are behind me and the team and even with ten players out injured, we are still winning games.
'Now we come in and see Manchester United have lost at West Ham so maybe you will believe me when I saw we are still in the title race after all.'
The Israeli coach looks like the type of man who is oblivious to anything thrown at him. While predecessor Jose Mourinho was a joy for reporters who revelled in his outspoken post-match outbursts, Grant is the polar opposite.
He would have the same dour expression on his face if his team had lost 10-0 or won by a similar margin and for that reason, he is a tough guy to warm to. Supporters like to see a manager show some passion on the touchline or even in his TV interviews, but Grant is about as passionate as an impotent man who has lost his Viagra tablets.
Passion is not a commodity Newcastle boss Sam Allardyce lacks and, for the first time, Soccernet's Insider felt some sympathy for one of his least favourite football characters as he faced up to a decision that could contribute to him losing his job at St James' Park.
'I want to know how the assistant referee can get that decision so badly wrong,' barked the bitter Newcastle boss. 'Our performance deserved at least a point, but it has been taken away from us by a decision no one can explain.
'As a manager, I can't say what I really think about the decision because it would cost me a lot of money. Blind fear might have got to the assistant. Maybe his arm froze as he had to make a decision at Chelsea's home ground. It was a terrible mistake.
'Video evidence should have been introduced many years ago, but it will never happen for whatever reason. The offside rule is throwing too much pressure on the officials because I don't understand the rule now. There is a debate after so many goals now, but this is clear and blatant. The assistant referee is in a great position and the flag has not gone up. What can we do about it?
'We live in a more volatile football world than ever before with seven managers already losing their jobs this season. This decision puts even more pressure on me and I have to take some positives from the performance.'
Like Grant, Allardyce is hard to warm to and few are shedding tears as he tries and seemingly fails to revive a club whose determination to finish second has been ingrained over many long and painful years.
There has rarely been anything to like about Allardyce, whose rugged appearance and ugly Bolton side did their best to stop any of their opponents from playing football over an unfortunately successful period. If you enjoyed watching football from the dark ages, then Big Sam was your man during his time at the Reebok Stadium, but the empty seats in the stands every week suggested his supporters were hard to find.
That may have explained why many a Newcastle fan expressed reservations when the manager who arrogantly believed he should have been name as England manager after Sven Goran Eriksson vacated the job in the summer of 2006 turned up on their doorstep last summer.
His move to sign Joey Barton suggested his determination to inflict 'tough guy' action onto long suffering Newcastle fans was set in stone and while the St James' faithful were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, results needed to come if the football was to be dour.
What has happened is the exact opposite, with a glut of woeful performances on Tyneside doing little to win him any fresh admirers and the Boxing Day defeat at Wigan viewed as a result that plunged his future at the club into doubts once again.
Allardyce's judgement has been questioned time and again in recent weeks with Barton currently languishing in jail after his latest off-field indiscretion, the divorce papers may soon be filed on a figure who just doesn't seem to be a good fit for Newcastle, yet you have to wonder if anyone will succeed in this job.
It should be reported that his side performed with much more passion against a second string Chelsea side at Stamford Bridge and Newcastle could easily have taken a lead after Nicky Butt drew the scores level following Michael Essien's fortunate first half opener for Chelsea.
The manner of the defeat was little short of a disgrace as substitute Claudio Pizarro deflected the ball into the path of Kalou who tapped home, fully expecting the flag to be raised he was stood alone in the centre of the penalty box. When the decision did not come, he belatedly started his celebrations, but they were tinged with a knowing guilt.
In an era when managers are sacked all too easily, mistakes of this magnitude from professional match officials just cannot be tolerated. Avram Grant can thank his lucky stars that assistant referee Mike Cairns - let's name and shame him - picked his moment to throw in a career defining mistake.
• MAN OF THE MATCH: Shay Given - The Ireland No.1 pulled off a series of fine saves to keep Newcastle in the hunt and they would have been well beaten without their brilliant keeper.
• FOOD WATCH: A lovely chicken stew with rice was a treat. The half time apple pie was a joy as well.
• ALLARDYCE ON JOEY BARTON'S LATEST DISGRACE: 'We have to put this incident behind us and we'll deal with it later when we find out what the outcome is. It is very disappointing, but I can't say any more than that.'
• BAN THE ASSISTANT REF: For a second weekend in a row, The Insider saw a game decided by a dodgy refereeing decision. This one should not be overlooked as it was a total shocker.
• CHELSEA VERDICT: Luck will not keep them in the title race for long and with this many injuries, the jeers for Avram Grant will return sooner rather than later.
• NEWCASTLE VERDICT: Sam Allardyce's side deserve credit for a display that could have yielded a famous victory and was more than worthy of a point.
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