Fernando Torres keeps Chelsea hopes up
Chelsea 3 // West Ham 0
LONDON // Finally, after 14 excruciating appearances in Chelsea blue, the £50 million (Dh303m) striker has a goal.
The roar of collective relief at Stamford Bridge told one story, the amused smile on Carlo Ancelotti's face another.
Yet, even in scoring there was a certain sense of comedy to Fernando Torres.
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Played into a rain-drenched penalty area by Nicolas Anelka, the Spaniard slipped heavily before shooting. Fortunately for Torres, West Ham's defenders were far enough away for him to recover balance, spin to his left, and hook a shot around Robert Green.
"You can imagine after 14 games waiting for the first goal how I feel," Torres said. "It's not the beginning I was expecting when I signed.
"It's never easy to come in January and the style of the team is very clear. But I've been working on it thanks to my teammates. Thanks to them I've scored. They've been looking for me all the time.
"Maybe the pitch wasn't the best but football is like that, it is not always beautiful. I had more anxiety for the fans than for me because I wanted to score and hopefully this is the first of many."
It all served the odd delusion that flutters around Stamford Bridge one day, then flies away the next. Chelsea, we are told, are still in the title hunt. Then they are concentrating simply on finishing runners-up to Manchester United. And then they are title challengers again.
The latest is if Arsenal can beat United next weekend, if Chelsea can triumph at Old Trafford the week after, it's all on again.
With Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, declaring his interest in Didier Drogba should Chelsea formally put their best striker up for sale, Ancelotti had kept faith with a forward line that scored five goals in the two preceding matches.
Benched once again was Torres, who Chelsea now admit did not undergo a full medical before his ill-starred transfer from Liverpool.
Roaming intelligently across the forward line, Drogba had two early strikes saved then played Florent Malouda in behind West Ham's defence to spurn a one-on-one with Green.
Without a serious attack in the opening 25 minutes, West Ham were reminded of their opponents' vulnerability by Demba Ba's direct run and strike from 35 yards. Petr Cech touched that over the bar, then reacted smartly to turn away a Jonathan Spector header and Freddie Sears' close-range back flick.
Pushing forward, though, presented space for Chelsea to exploit.
Again Drogba was to the fore, angling a perfect pass behind Lars Jacobsen for Ashley Cole to cut back to Frank Lampard. The finish was as forthright as the thunderstorm that took out half the stadium's floodlights.
Apparently more concerned with limiting the damage to West Ham's goal difference than aggressively pursuing an equaliser, Grant made no attempt to exploit a now sodden pitch. Possession returned to Chelsea, though John Obi Mikel was required to clear a Manuel da Costa header off the home line at a corner.
But more pain was coming West Ham's way. With a quarter hour remaining, a whole team held heads in hand when Robbie Keane contrived to clip wide of the upright with only the goalkeeper to beat. Ten minutes later Torres slip-slided his way on to the score sheet for the first time in 734 minutes for Chelsea.
In injury time, Malouda rocketed in a third.
"The pitch gave a good assist for Torres to score and he scored," said Avram Grant, the West Ham manager, his team now rock bottom of the division.
"I don't like the result, but the result is lying. The gap to safety stayed at two points and it's still in our hands. If we continue to play like this we will stay in the league."
Published: April 24, 2011 04:00 AM