x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ecstasy for Chelsea and agony for Portsmouth

Portsmouth and the woodwork almost thwart Chelsea's double dream, writes Alam Khan.

Chelsea fans make their way down Wembley Way prior to the FA Cup final yesterday.
Chelsea fans make their way down Wembley Way prior to the FA Cup final yesterday.

En route to Wembley, a small boy, surrounded by men decked in the blue of his beloved Chelsea, was asked to predict the score. "What do you reckon, little man," asked one hulking figure cheerily. There was little hesitation as he responded: "863-0." It was a bit optimistic, but after the first half of yesterday's final, the youngster must have wondered how Chelsea had not at least racked up a record score for the competition. With a 6-0 win over Derby in 1903, it was Bury who hold the distinction for that.

But Carlo Ancelotti's side could have surpassed that in 45 minutes that included moments of much brilliance and bewilderment. Four times Chelsea were denied by the woodwork - five if you include the offside effort from Branislav Ivanovic - and Salomon Kalou's miss from four yards will haunt him for years to come. David James, the Portsmouth keeper, might have garnered a reputation for errors, but has also defied belief with some of his saves.

The stop in the 38th minute was a case in point as he arched back and stretched his fingertips to push Drogba's free-kick on to the bar. It bounced down on the line and away to safety. At 39 years and 287 days, he became the oldest keeper to appear in an FA Cup final, beating David Seaman, who played for Arsenal in 2003, by 47 days. What had transpired was a far cry to last week's final league game that saw Chelsea clinch the Premier League title in style with an 8-0 win at home to Wigan.

Everything they tried that day came off. Every pass, every tackle and, crucially, every shot. Yesterday seemed to be the opposite until Drogba's curling strike beat James in the 59th minute. "This pitch brings me a lot of luck," the Ivorian said earlier this week as he reflected on a return of five goals at the showpiece stadium. He was not wrong as number six - and 37 for the season - followed. The luck that deserted Chelsea in the first half was on their side in the second. They could even afford to miss a late penalty from Frank Lampard.

While Drogba was once more the hero, there had to be a villain in the piece - as so often has been the case in cup finals. Kevin-Prince Boateng had worked tirelessly for the Portsmouth cause, but he will be remembered for the miss that might have prevented one of the biggest shocks in the history of the competition. It was a desperately poor penalty and he knew it. Boateng dropped to the ground in agony after Petr Cech blocked his tame effort with his legs. When he was taken off by Avram Grant he cut a disconsolate figure and covered his face to hide the tears. Wembley can be a very lonely place for the losers.

John Aldridge, the Liverpool striker, felt the same hurt when he became the first player to miss in a final back in 1988. Ironically, Dave Beasant, the Wimbledon keeper who denied him that day with a save to record a famous win, was in goal for a half-time contest at Wembley yesterday. Yet this time there was to be no fairy-tale final, and no happy ending for Portsmouth after a season in which they also suffered relegation following their financial troubles. Championship football and the prospect of more cash worries provides a grim future.

For Chelsea, that little boy will go home proud to have witnessed history for his side. No one can deny they deserved to become the seventh team to achieve the magnificent feat of the league and FA Cup double. They will take some stopping next season. akhan@thenational.ae