This was one Bridge that wasn’t too far
There are some points you have to take into account before you could voice any criticism whatsoever about Saturday:
• By dint of their reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League last season we were playing one of the top eight clubs in Europe.
• Two years ago this weekend we were visiting Hartlepool.
• Swansea still haven’t scored a Premier League goal.
• I’d far rather be in our shoes than Blackburn’s at the moment.
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It was a much, much better display at Stamford Bridge than ever I was expecting.
Overall we went there and, as has been the case so much over the past two years on the road, gave it a real go.
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But on the train back on Saturday evening I must admit I felt myself briefly thinking, if only we could have taken one of those chances at 1-1, the Steve Morison one in particular.
We have to start making the most of openings like that now – and quickly.
Perhaps it might not have mattered in the end – maybe Chelsea would have stormed back to win 3-2 and we’d now be no better off points-wise.
But starting from the visit of West Brom next month we have to start putting away these chances or else the early weeks of this season might be in danger of being a re-re-run of seven years ago: lots of spirit, but no wins.
With hindsight, you do just wonder – was this our chance to get something from one of the big four/five/six.
Opportunities like this don’t come around very often.
Take away the home win over Manchester United seven seasons ago and we were comfortably beaten in all our other seven meetings with that year’s ‘Big Four’.
But, that said, this was nowhere near as timid as some of those losses in 2004/5.
I was expecting something along the lines of our previous 4-0 defeats at Stamford Bridge, but this time we managed to keep the game alive for far longer.
In 2002 in the FA Cup it was 2-0 and game over after 56 minutes; five years later it was 51. In the Premier League’s ultimately embarrassing one-sided encounter in 2004 we were three down by half-time.
And for a little while on Saturday, you did wonder whether we were in for a repeat.
The way City started they seemed almost starstruck. For the first 10 minutes it was as though they had been promoted, not just once to the Premier League, but twice to a European Super League such was the early gulf in class between the sides.
Frankly, you feared a repeat of what happened the last time we visited west London in the Premier League. At least we managed to hold out against Fulham for 10 minutes.
The goal we conceded on Saturday had all the hallmarks of sitting off players, as happened all so often on that never-to-be-remembered day at Craven Cottage.
But one tactical reorganisation later and the unthinkable started to happen: the Canaries, in front of the biggest crowd they had faced since their previous league visit to Chelsea at the end of 2004, grew in confidence, actually started to dictate matters and make an expensively-assembled opposition look second-rate at times.
And that’s a huge thing to take out of Saturday. We’ve show significant improvement on our previous match against both Stoke and Chelsea and as long as we can continue this step up against West Brom that first league win of the season should be ours.
Having started at Chelsea in something of a starstruck manner City will have come away knowing that they can play at this level.
Juan Mata’s goal will capture a lot of headlines, but there were some equally outstanding City displays, and if Grant Holt had struck his effort for a bigger side the media would have been in raptures.
Just so long as this wasn’t a one-off on a big stage, and we can maintain this level of performance in the six-pointers that really matter, it was all hugely encouraging. Again.
As opposed to the refereeing – and while I’ve got no complaints about the penalty, if Kyle Naughton had done what Fernando Torres did we’d have ended the game with nine men. A classic home decision at a big club.
But perhaps the Spaniard’s contribution is the thing to remember most of all from Saturday – the �50m signing was allowed to cause barely more problems than Denis Behan and Colin Larkin did two years ago this weekend. They are, I’m sure you will remember, the Hartlepool front line who faced a City side of which Holt is the only survivor.
• NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT THIS CHELSEA MANAGER
Andre Villas-Boas – he’s no Jose Mourinho, is he?
There was the comment on Match Of The Day about the penalty and sending-off: “Paul Lambert has a good imagination. Fantastic.”
No, “well he would say that, wouldn’t he?” type of normal response from someone who has been in this league no more than five minutes.
Then there was the reported press conference comment: “I would find it very strange if any of my staff were disrespectful of Norwich – they were just showing joy: if Paul can’t handle that, I’m sorry. Unlucky.”
Not so much a Special One, more the Very Arrogant One.
He could maybe learn a thing or two from Mourinho.
Witness Mourinho’s comments – who knows, possibly ever so slightly tongue in cheek – in 2007: “The result was a bit heavy for Norwich. I think we were a bit lucky to be winning 1-0 at half-time.”
Or those of 2004: “They [Norwich] surprised us.
“They came with a good attitude, they played some good football and they put pressure on us.”
• BRINGING OUT THE SILVER IS A LITTLE DULL
There wasn’t much in the way of half-time entertainment on offer on Saturday – although someone at Stamford Bridge is clearly a fan of The Day We Caught The Train by Ocean Colour Scene judging by the number of times it got played.
Frankly, if someone had told me at the height of this band’s fame in the 1990s that I would one day be paying �50 to see an ordinary league game of football I’d have expected to see them live in concert before, during half-time and after the 90 minutes of action and with special guest star Dion Dublin too. Or anything, in fact, to generate a bit of atmosphere in what has become a corporate ‘soccer stadium’.
What we did get, though, was Chelsea’s second string doing a lap of honour to show off the Premier Reserve League trophy they won last season.
From row 16 of the Shed Upper I have to say it’s not much of a trophy – most county cups are probably infinitely more significant items of silverware.
No wonder there isn’t a full compliment of 20 teams taking place in the competition – what looks like a large silver salver plainly just isn’t what some clubs want in their trophy cabinets.
• HAVE WE HAD ENOUGH OF CUP TIES?
So we missed an away tie at Burnley in the Carling Cup third round, which would have come three days after our Premier League visit to Bolton.
I can get over the loss of that anything-but-eye-catching fixture, but not the defeat to MK Dons which continued our lamentable run in this competition – that’s 16 seasons in a row now that we’ve failed to get beyond even the third round.
It’s actually a bit of a watershed moment.
All right, I know that from a �10 ticket price that once the Football League and the VAT man have taken their cuts the competing clubs don’t exactly see much money, but how many people will have decided on Tuesday night that these sort of games no longer provide any value for money?
Frankly, cup ties at Norwich have now slumped to the level of pre-season friendlies. The club doesn’t take them seriously so why should anyone else be expected to do so any more?