November 11, 2007 11:20 pm

Generous Chelsea miss meanness of Mourinho

Excitement, perhaps, is not all it is cracked up to be. Avram Grant has spoken of his “obligation to entertain” since replacing José Mourinho as manager of Chelsea, and his side provided a dramatic late twist on Sunday.

The only problem was, it was at the expense of two points. Everton will pinch themselves and wonder how on earth they got away with a 1-1 away draw, while Chelsea will see their title aspirations withering amid another injury-prompted Christmas slump.

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The similarities to last season’s winter of discontent at Stamford Bridge are becoming increasingly worrying. Already without goalkeeper Petr Cech and centre-back and captain John Terry because of injury, on Sunday they lost defender Ricardo Carvalho, who in his intelligence and reading of the game may be the least replaceable of the three. He hobbled on for a few minutes after falling awkwardly following an aerial challenge with striker Yakubu Ayegbeni, but eventually succumbed to a back injury.

It is impossible to say whether he would have been able to prevent Tim Cahill’s equaliser, a superb 89th-minute overhead. Yet it is hard to imagine Chelsea being quite so shapeless at the back when James McFadden drifted in from the left if the Portugal
centre-back had been on the field.

McFadden was granted space to unleash a speculative shot, and when it cannoned up off Juliano Belletti, Cahill twisted brilliantly to thump the ball past Carlo Cudicini.

It should never have come to that. When Didier Drogba finally headed Chelsea in front from Salomon Kalou’s near-post corner after 71 minutes, the sense was of the dam finally bursting.

But for some brilliant goalkeeping from Everton’s Tim Howard and some fortuitous defending, Chelsea would have been out of sight. The goalkeeper’s reflex save from Frank Lampard on the half-hour was breathtaking, and for that he perhaps deserved his luck when a weak punch – his one mistake – fell to Alex after 64 minutes. The Brazilian struck his volley sweetly enough to beat Howard, but Tony Hibbert was in the right place on the line to keep it out.

Chelsea’s frustration will not be confined to missed chances. There was a sense too that they did not make the most of their possession.

Not for the first time, Shaun Wright-Phillips disappointed dreadfully with his delivery. If the watching England manager Steve McClaren was in any doubt about giving David Beckham yet another recall in the friendly against Austria on Friday, it surely disappeared yesterday as cross after cross disappeared high over the home forwards’ heads.

It is baffling that a player apparently so committed to training should be so deficient in such a significant area of the winger’s art. Still, at least he was visible, which is more than can be said for team-mate Joe Cole.

“From a football point of view, I think it was a good game,” said Grant. “When you want to play an attacking game it is natural that at 1-0 you should want another goal.”

It would be stretching things to read that as a criticism of owner Roman Abramovich’s demand for entertainment, but it is difficult to imagine that a Mourinho side would have allowed themselves to be undone so softly.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in two minutes on Sunday to put Manchester United three points clear of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League after a 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers. With unbeaten Arsenal, who have two games in hand, playing at Reading tonight, the champions were in rampant form at Old Trafford with Ronaldo heading home in the 34th minute and then doubling his tally with a right-footed shot soon after.

Tottenham Hotspur were the day’s high scorers, thrashing struggling Wigan Athletic 4-0 at White Hart Lane, with Jermaine Jenas netting twice.

In the day’s early match, Gabriel Agbonlahor cleared off the line and then scored a late winner two minutes later to give Aston Villa a 2-1 victory in the derby at Birmingham City.

Bolton drew 0-0 at home to Middlesbrough, and Portsmouth and Manchester City also had to settle for a goalless draw.

In Scotland, Hearts romped to a 4-1 home win over Aberdeen and replaced them in sixth place in the Premier League.

Meanwhile, England’s hopes of qualifying for next year’s European Championships took a further blow when Liverpool said Yossi Benayoun will not play for three weeks because of a torn adductor muscle. This means Benayoun, Israel’s best player, will miss his country’s Euro 2008 qualifying match against Russia. England need Israel to beat or draw with Russia to retain any real hopes of going to the finals.

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