Football: YOU BLUE IT MOURINHO; Jose Shows the Strain as Title Slips Away Chelsea 2 Bolton 2 BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP BATTLE FOR THE PREM

The People (London, England), April 29, 2007 | Go to article overview

Football: YOU BLUE IT MOURINHO; Jose Shows the Strain as Title Slips Away Chelsea 2 Bolton 2 BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP BATTLE FOR THE PREM


Byline: The ANDY DUNN report

FOR just under an hour, the electronic scoreboard flashed nothing but hope. Nothing but encouragement. Nothing but good news.

Barely five minutes later, possibly at the behest of the manager himself, they switched it off.

The lights had gone out on Chelsea's title defence, on Chelsea's quadruple ambitions, on Jose Mourinho's domination of English football.

And everyone inside the stadium knew it. They knew it before the text messages beeped through Wayne Rooney's third for United and Chris Eagles' elegant finale.

Because their team, running perilously close to empty for so long, are out of gas.

Bolton's second set-piece goal of the afternoon - maybe Sam Allardyce's farewell present to his great pal at Old Trafford - had given Chelsea another fight back to complete.

It never looked within their compass.

At the final whistle, Mourinho stalked defiantly on to the pitch and shook hands with every one of his players.

It was the handshake of someone thanking his men for a brave but unsuccessful effort ... not just on this day but over the whole season.

It was the handshake of a proud but beaten man. For once in the post match press conference, Mourinho's look spoke more dramatically than his words. He looked resigned.

"We have no time to be sad because we have a big game on Tuesday," he said. "We won the title at Bolton a couple of seasons ago and lost at Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final. Maybe we lose to Bolton today and win in midweek."

For the first time since he breezed into this country, Jose was clutching at straws.

It will take all of Mourinho's mastery to lift his team for the game at Anfield in 48 hours' time because this was a game that drained their emotions as well as their energies.

It was a game with enough sub-plots to sink an Abramovich yacht.

The chances, for example, of Allardyce chewing gum within earshot of Jose Mourinho next season seem remote.

But Rob Styles's first whistle put the politics, prattle and posturing on hold.

And when news of Everton's opener rippled around Stamford Bridge, concerns could only focus on the here and now.

Mourinho's concerns must have been that he had rotated his way out of title contention.

Because within minutes of the hopeful bulletin from Merseyside, Lubomir Michalik had struck.

Abdoulaye Meite's leap was prodigious enough to make Michael Essien seem leaden-footed and when the Frenchman's header met only a weak clearance, Michalik prodded himself briefly out of anonymity.

Petr Cech had barely straightened his back before Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard were high-stepping down the touchline. The subs warmed up and so did Chelsea.

Unchecked, unguarded and unhurried, Wayne Bridge swept over the cross that got the header it deserved from Salomon Kalou.

It is a measure of Andriy Shevchenko's continuing struggles that his efforts paled into insignificance alongside those of Kalou.

To live in the shadow of a bona fide world superstar such as Drogba is just about acceptable - to live in the shadow of a rookie is not.

Not even a go-ahead Chelsea goal could prolong Sheva's involvement in this contest, Mourinho turning to Drogba for second-half reassurance. …

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