Walters gives Chelsea a helping head and misses late penalty

Mon, Jan 14, 2013, 00:00

Stoke City 0 Chelsea 4:Chelsea’s results so far this year make topsy-turvy reading. Two home defeats, both unexpected, against Queens Park Rangers and Swansea, and two away wins by four-goal margins at Southampton and Stoke.

Some significance can be read into the last at the Britannia, as it emphatically ended the last home unbeaten record in all four divisions. Not many teams are going to win 4-0 at Stoke but even fewer will do so by scoring only one goal of their own making from open play.

The one goal that did not come from Jon Walters’s forehead or Frank Lampard’s reliability from the penalty spot was a stunning Eden Hazard strike that summed up Chelsea’s superiority. Hazard in particular spent the first half being bumped around like a pinball between Stoke’s burly defenders, frequently ending up on his backside looking pleadingly at the referee for free-kicks that never came.

It looked like the classic test for an expensive flair player from overseas: can he do it on a cold Saturday afternoon in Stoke? Hazard could. He stayed on the pitch for the whole game, became increasingly influential in the second half, and scored a goal that even the Stoke fans could only applaud. “A wonder goal,” Tony Pulis called it.

Miss the target

During that first quarter of the game Stoke had a chance to take the lead when Andy Wilkinson’s shot was deflected into the path of Kenwyne Jones, only for the striker to narrowly miss the target with just Petr Cech to beat. That was the home side’s clearest opportunity until the Walters penalty right at the end that skidded high into the Boothen End off the top of Cech’s bar. By that stage the Stoke player was already on the scoresheet with two credits in the Chelsea account. On both occasions he was being pressurised by Chelsea players in close proximity and put on the spot by the quality of the crosses delivered by Cesar Azpilicueta and Juan Mata respectively.

What made an unfortunate situation even worse for Stoke was the timing of the own goals. The first came right on the stroke of half-time, when the home side had only seconds to play out to turn around level; the next arrived on the hour just after Stoke had been unlucky not to be awarded a penalty.

Once it was 4-0 Rafa Benitez judged it safe to send on John Terry for the last few minutes and the first of his comeback games from a knee injury. Terry managed to give away a last-minute penalty with a challenge on Walters, and must have been relieved when the same player shaped to take the kick. Surely another Stoke player should have stepped in. Walters’ head must have been all over the place. It certainly had been in the previous 89 minutes.

– Guardian Service

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