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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Frank Lampard has never been the most popular of footballers, certainly not with fans of other clubs, but you'd have to have a heart of stone not to stand up and applaud his astonishing composure after a emotional night at Stamford Bridge. Seconds after seeing a goal they were already busy celebrating ruled out for offside, Chelsea won a crucial extra-time penalty. Michael Ballack, the hero against Manchester United at the weekend, stepped forward but Lampard, who lost his mother just six days previously, took the ball from him and looked to the heavens for inspiration. Is it sentimental to suggest that he got a response? Without any sign of nerves he smashed the ball home and then crumpled into tears as his father looked on proudly from the stands. Even the Liverpool fans, a sentimental bunch at the best of times, would have had to admire his courage.

They certainly don't admire the work of Didier Drogba, a serial diver who was at his worst at Anfield last week, prompting a fierce condemnation from Rafa Benitez. The Spanish manager is a tactical master, but you have to question the wisdom of launching an outspoken attack on a striker who wasn't exactly in the best form of his career. The big Ivorian responded emphatically, smashing home the first goal and then running all the way to the Liverpool dug-out to skid to his knees and glare at his tormentor.

This was a game played in the worst of conditions on a pitch that began to tear up within minutes of the kick-off. It made for a scrappy, messy match and prevented either side from stringing passes together, a condition that, oddly enough, affected this rejuvenated Chelsea side as much as it did their opponents. For the first half, one Fernando Torres shot aside, Liverpool could barely get out of their own half and were forced to hold their breath as Michael Essien and Michael Ballack peppered Jose Reina's goal with long-shots.

With players skidding about in the mud and passes going astray, it's difficult to isolate a man of the match and this was a rare occasion when the referee, Roberto Rosetti, would have as much claim on the title as anyone else. He was called upon to make four enormous decisions here and he got all of them correct. He disallowed Michael Essien's extra-time strike for offside and, for once, the new, complicated rule was applied to perfection. Chelsea had four players offside when the ball was hit, three of whom were not interfering with play, but Drogba was standing in front of Reina, obscuring his view. Then, moments later, Sami Hyypia slammed into Michael Ballack, costing his side a penalty. Liverpool were denied penalties of their own twice afterwards, once when Ryan Babel dived at the other end and then again when Drogba hung out a leg and Hyypia went down. There was certainly contact, but it was on the leg that was in the air, not the standing leg and Hyypia went down in instalments. Four calls, four correct decisions.

Avram Grant then, for all the abuse and for all the taunts, has made history. No other manager, least of all you-know-who, has ever taken the London side this far. Many of his critics, myself included, have repeatedly said that when this Chelsea side stop playing awful football and do something worth applauding, we'll be the first to start clapping. Grant has just about held his side together in a turbulent season, he has brought them into an improbable title race and he has taken them to Moscow. He's made mistakes along the way and they've highlighted mercilessly, but that's part of being a top level manager. Only ultimate victory will give him the 'special' status, but for the moment he deserves to enjoy the limelight. This night, however, will forever belong to another much-maligned soul whose bravery may finally have won him the widespread respect he has always craved.