Saturday, April 25, 2009
Lampard has the last laugh
Upsetting the West Ham faithful is a crime that results in a life sentence of hatred.
Paul Ince is living proof that time does not heal the wounds for anyone who dares to leave West Ham for a bigger club, with his dastardly deed of joining Manchester United a full two decades ago casting him as the eternal villain.
You see this 'loveable' bunch have longer memories than any of their rivals and with that knowledge in his mind, Frank Lampard must have wondered who had slipped this fixture into his diary after a week he would rather forget.
Chelsea's failure to beat Everton in the Premier League on Wednesday night appeared to end Lampard's hopes of collecting another title, while the English tabloid newspaper have been oozing with gossip emanating from his increasingly bitter divorce from wife, Elen Rives.
In a week marking the first anniversary of the death of his beloved mother, the England midfielder gave an insight into his current mindset in an emotional attack on an outspoken radio host who had been criticising him live on-air and now he was thrown before the pack of lions who abuse him more than any other.
Leaving West Ham doesn't automatically mean you are jeered to the rafters when you return as Hammers icons Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst had the cheek to play for others clubs and remained favourites here, while modern day heroes Joe Cole and Michael Carrick are not given adverse treatment when they return to Upton Park.
Yet Lampard was always a different case as he was not popular with West Ham fans when he was at the club in the first place. They felt he only got into their team because his father, Frank Snr, was assistant manager, but their judgement on the player has proved be woefully inaccurate as he has gone on to become one of Europe's finest midfielders.
No-one likes to be proved wrong about a player, so Lampard's stunning rise has added to the venom he is seemingly destined to receive for evermore at Upton Park. But perhaps jealousy of his success since leaving their modest little club is blurring the judgement of many.
The man at the eye of the storm must have been prepared for a tough afternoon as he returned to his former club and he was not to be disappointed as the booing rang out every time he went near the ball in the opening exchanges.
On a day when Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink shuffled his pack ahead of Tuesday night's Champions League semi-final in Barcelona, Lampard was never likely to be spared his latest ordeal as his name is always among the first on the Dutchman's team-sheet and he set about his task with typical class.
Even though West Ham should have taken a lead when the returning Kieron Dyer was sent clear on goal by Diego Tristan after 20 minutes only for Petr Cech to deny him, it Chelsea who quickly established some early momentum.
Nicolas Anelka, who was leading the line in place of Didier Drogba, nearly broke the deadlock after 36 minutes as he was allowed to run at goal before firing narrowly wide and the Hammers inability to hold onto the ball was inviting pressure on their back line, yet it was West Ham who came closest to scoring before the break.
The major flaw in Chelsea's make-up right now is Cech's inability to deal with crosses and the Czech Republic keeper was nowhere to be seen as Tristan flicked the ball towards goal and Jon Obi Mikel was required to save his keeper.
Booing top quality players is a dangerous ploy for any fan and Lampard delighted in setting-up Salomon Kalou to stab home the opening goal ten minutes after the re-start. There are few better at bursting beyond the last line of defence and creating chances for his team-mates than Lampard and he proved as much once again.
Curiously, West Ham fans seem content to cheer the name of Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola after his success as Upton Park manager this season and news that the little Italian was set to sign an extended contact at the club should have been the ideal pre-match boost.
As it turned out, Zola's side were no match for Chelsea and they nearly went two behind when Anelka burst into the box and was denied by a fine block from Robert Green. Substitute Ashley Cole then crashed a shot against the crossbar.
It seemed as if Chelsea were ready to kill off the Hammers until Kalou inexplicably handed them a passport back into the game by pulling back Herita Ilunga in the box. Mark Noble blew the chance to draw level as Cech kept out his spot kick with a superb one handed save.
''People have been criticising Cech a lot in the last few weeks, but he has come through his problems now and it was a great save on the penalty,'' said delighted Chelsea boss Hiddink. ''We were in control for long periods in this game, but our big crime was not finishing off our opponents and it meant we created some problems for ourselves.
''Still, I have just been told that this was Chelsea's first win in a London derby this season and we have to be satisfied with the result.''
West Ham boss Zola admitted his side had been outplayed for long periods. ''We did not perform to our usual standards today, yet this was always going to be a very tough task for us,'' conceded the former Stamford Bridge hero. ''Chelsea played very well and deserved their victory.''
Zola also confirmed he has signed a new contract at the club. ''I am so happy to commit to what I believe will be a great project here,'' he added. ''The coaching staff and everyone at the club are looking forward to doing something over a long period and it is great to be a part of it.''
Lampard's Upton Park detractors enjoyed one final boo as he left the field, but he had enjoyed the last laugh once again.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Frank Lampard
The Chelsea No.8 rarely has a bad game and even though bitter West Ham fans booed him off at the end, he produced the one moment of quality that decided the game. Lampard's calm composure in the midfield allowed him to stand out.
CECH WOES CONTINUE: If Petr Cech was confident he had recovered from the head injury he sustained at Reading a couple of years back, he would not continue to wear the head guard he seems attached to. His penalty save in this game proved he is still a quality shot stopper, but he has big worries challenging for high balls under pressure.
LACK OF BELIEF: West Ham fans didn't seem to believe their side could get back into the game once they went behind and the great atmosphere that can be generated in this stadium was sadly lacking on this occasion.