FAINT LOUIS BLUES
Mickey Blue Eyes
One of the great bonuses of living in our beloved city is that it is a sheltered port. Hence a microclimate that has us looking on as much of the rest of the country has submerged under strata of white ice. We've had the low temperatures, but for the most part only a light dusting of snow and slippery stuff. While the rest of Britain has ground to a halt we have managed to keep things going and keep the secret to ourselves. This has been a small comfort as our equally beloved Royal Blues have frozen as badly as, say, Lahndan and its infrastructure. We hoped Our Boys would thaw out in Saturday's match at Chelsea. However, it would be without Yours Truly since I haven't the slightest intention ever of paying ludicrous prices to subsidise the Russian gangster. And anyway I can't stand the worst capital city in Europe, worse even than Athens, and full of peculiar Little Englanders with tattoos and Daily Mail-reading cretins. No siree, Bob, I decided to stay home and watch it with friends in a local pub.
Unfortunately, you can get as many right knob heads watching football in a pub as you can sitting behind you in a football ground. You can identify them easily as patients in the Mel Brooks Ward of Bedlam Hospital. Often the actual game is the least of it, because the worst culprits are those whose "knowledge" of running a club is a mixture of Baron Munchausen, Coco the Clown, Arfer Daley and Neddy Seagoon. Usually it runs to nothing more than crazy hatred. In the pub we had one such loud-mouthed manic-depressive moron standing a few metres from us as we waited for the TV broadcast of the game at the Cockney Rent Boys. The episode was a comic illustration of how some people detach from reality and stroll willingly into T.S. Eliot's Wilderness of Mirrors, obsessed by a weird and obscure disappointment in life. If you get really serious it could leave you pondering the fragility of human reason, but in this case the guy was so fucking stupid you forgot all that. At one point he whinged about debt, then in the next breath said we should be signing more players, then in the next Kenwright didn't want to sell the club, then in the next wanted to sell for profit, then there was something about train sets....or something. It was the kind of dizzying insane cocktail that might yet do for the game. Against my better instincts - you've seen and heard one of these paranoid loons and you've seen and heard them all - I pointed out the glaring arithmetical contradiction in his, er, "logic." It was like trying to hold a conversation with a putrefying lemon filled with detached fish-eyes. I should have known better. So I abandoned the attempt and we moved off to a saner part of the pub where people wanted to watch a game of footy without having to roll their eyes every time the knob head opened his mouth.
Before the start it was good to see we would have a long awaited centre midfield including Felli and Jack The Lad, Phil Neville back, and an interesting prospect in Seamus V Ashley Cole. Wherever you looked Chelsea had great players that cost an awful lot of Russki natural resources; my three main concerns were Anelka, Drogba and a returning Michael Essien, who I hoped might also be a bit ring rusty. Overall, Our Boys seemed to have a better prospect of team shape and balance than for many weeks, while the Rent Boys have imploded after a wonderful goal-ridden start. I was optimistic.
Sure enough, we had a really good first half, in some aspects much better than Chelsea, apart from a moment when John Terry laid off issuing injunctions long enough to hit the bar with a speculative effort. And how long is it since we have been able to say that? In fact we very nearly scored via Louis after twenty five seconds, a la the Cup Final. The foundation of this greatly improved performance was midfield, where Felli was superb, completely composed and dominant whenever the ball came near him, Jack The Lad a perfect foil and Steven Pienaar finding his energetic and courageous best, so Mikky's poor form wasn't missed in the least. All of this steadied matters so much that, naturally, the defence looked one hundred percent more solid, particularly Sylvain Distin who has buried all earlier criticisms, including mine. We had only one ropey moment in the half when Tim spilled a low cross near the left goal area angle. Apart from the goal, that is, when Nev dropped a right-side pass back short for the Incredible Sulk to race on to and then get toppled in a collision with Tim in the penalty area. Mysteriously, Tim didn't get a red card after the inevitable penalty award - if it was a penalty and Tim was the last man, which he was, why no red? Strange are the ways of referees. Not that I was complaining after some of the refereeing we have suffered this season.
Chelsea had one ten minutes period of superiority midway in the half and that was all. For the rest of the time Our Boys played an excellent passing game of self confidence lacking in our previous match. No question, Felli and Jack were the difference. Meanwhile, Seamus gave a really good account of himself on the right and worked a good combination with Phil Neville and kept Cashley occupied for most of the time. Though there were no Seamus headlong rushes for the goal line you could count this as another encouraging step in the right direction for him; his all-round game improves with every match. Our only absolute concern was where it has been all season, up front. Louis was lively enough winning headers and making some neat touches, but he was strangely unconvincing. For him, it continues to look ominous.....and that is sad. Just as sad for us was this season's usual absence of final penetration when we got to the penalty area. I know this sounds mad but I am convinced we would be top of the league if just one of our strikers had delivered at their best. Still, you can't have it both ways, love the game's spontaneity and unpredictability and whine like a stuck pig when those very factors go against you. You have to bite your bottom lip and salute the Royal Blue flag. Then go off, find a scarecrow and kick the living shits out of it in private.
The second half was even better for Us. As the game wore on we began to look really likely to get an equaliser. Tim Cahill was delivering his crucial Mister Disrupter role in masterful fashion - how we'll miss him when he's off to the Asia Cup! - while Bainsey suddenly launched into devastating raids down our left and whizzed in some marvellous crosses, from one of which Jack thudded a brilliant header against Cech's left hand post. When it came out you groaned, "Oh no, not afuckngain." Given the season, I thought that might deflate Us. Not a bit of it. Our Boys kept going despite losing Louis (early, Becks on) and Steven (late, Bily on) to yet more injuries. The only difficult moment came when Seamus covered himself with defensive glory with a perfectly timed tackle that prevented a Cashley goal; do him the world of good, that one. Apart from that the pressure on Chelsea's midfield was incessant. No real surprise, then, when the equaliser arrived with five minutes left. Mid-left side, Bainsey weaved through three tackles, brushed another defender aside and crossed yet another purler to the far side goal area. Tim Cahill - who else - got there first, nodded it back across the goal area and Becks butted it in in the middle. It was a brilliant goal and no more than deserved. We might even have pinched it in the closing stages with seven minutes added time.
It was the kind of display we've been yearning for all season, one we know the team is well capable of, and one long overdue even allowing for problems at the top end of the pitch. Mistake apart, Phil Neville marshalled the defence as only he can. The combination of Fellaini and Rodwell completely snuffed Chelsea's formidable midfield and still had time to get forward occasionally; it scarcely bears thinking how good they could be once they have re-settled. All round, the team and David Moyes restored the pride they leaked so badly last week. Let's hope they can really lift off from here. Let's hope too we can do the necessary deal to keep Steven Pienaar at the club; in this game he more than compensated for missing Mikky.
As we were leaving the pub, Alan, normally the quietest of men, detached himself and walked over to the knob head mentioned at the beginning and said, "Excuse me. I do hope you mind me mentioning this. But I think you're the worst misery-arsed gett I have ever met. Shove that up your arse." It drew a lot of satisfied smiles as we went off to celebrate. Outside, the ice had melted.