So close, yet so far

Last updated : 28 December 2004 By Keith Allman
I remember leaving the Arsenal game and wondering, why the hell am I disappointed? If five years earlier I had been offered the chance to lose 1-0 to the reigning Premiership champions whilst playing in the top flight of English football, I would've taken it all day long. I guess, it was just a sign of how far things had come.

And so it happened again today. Chelsea were five points clear at the start of play, had spent millions on their squad and had full internationals on the bench. We lost 2-0, and yet I still find myself sitting here in a state of slight annoyance. Admittedly I'm still delighted - what a performance, after all - but at the same time, disappointed we couldn't get at least a point.

Disappointed we couldn't get anything from the team top of the Premiership. How times change.

Today, we out-played Chelsea in large parts, and for that I am proud of the team. We created some great chances, scored what seemed to be a perfectly good goal (although the referee decided otherwise; not his only pro-Chelsea decision), and we made them look ordinary. It's a sign of how well we're playing that we are making teams of the calibre of Arsenal and Chelsea look second-best. We hassled and harried, we closed them down, we got in their faces - we did everything that a team needs to do to stand a chance.

And yet at the end of the day, they still had that cutting edge. And as they say, Chelsea displayed the perfect sign of a successful team. One who doesn't neccesarily play all that well and yet can still get three points, even away from home. But today, we can take great pride in our performance and once again reflect on the memories of the time we almost did something that would previously have been seen as impossible; achieved something that would surprise the pundits.

Calm down sunshine
I thought it was a great shame that, for all the good Zajec has done so far, we seemed to throw away the game due to his one decision. Perhaps he over-stated the importance of Joe Cole, as he seemed to make a rash change in throwing on Aliou Cissé to man-mark the former West Ham playmaker. In the ensuing chaos where no-one really knew what was going on, Robben burst forward and banged in his deflected strike to destroy the collective morale of players and fans alike. What exactly Robben was playing at with his celebration is another thing altogether; if I'd just scored with a hefty deflection from ten yards out I'd be happy, sure, but probably wouldn't haul off my shirt and run half the length of the pitch as if I'd won the World Cup. Each to their own, I guess.

Still, I'm not going to blame Zajec. He made the decision that he thought would be for the best of the game, and this time it didn't quite pay off. Against West Brom, Liverpool and Palace he wasn't afraid to make big changes, and we saw the rewards. You win some, you lose some, and this time it didn't quite work. Ironic that the player we changed everything for, Joe Cole, went on to score the second - in truth, a goal that Chelsea ill-deserved. But it's a harsh game, and we'll learn.

Like I said before the match today, games against the big teams are just bonuses, and anything you get is unexpected. Getting three points off Palace was more important. Getting three points off Norwich at the weekend is a thousand times more important. It's a shame that we came so close to nicking something today but couldn't quite hold it together, but if we have to lose today in exchange for beating the Canaries on New Year's Day, I'll take it. And if we play on Saturday like we did this afternoon, we will have no trouble.