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Wolves 2-1 Chelsea: Lemina and Doherty goals cement Christmas misery



(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Chelsea gave the gift of charity at Christmas, with Wolves the benefactors of three Premier League points after a dismal 2-1 loss at Molineux on Sunday afternoon.

The Blues were the architects of their own Christmas blues, registering a simply embarrassing display in the final third while falling asleep at costly moments in their own to lose a game they ought to have been winning by the time the final whistle shrilled. Not even a first Chelsea goal for Christopher Nkunku could cut through the gloom.

There was a touch of the Mike Bassett to the way Mauricio Pochettino had set up the Pensioners from the off, with Armando Broja and Nicolas Jackson spearheading a traditional 4-4-2 largely enforced by Chelsea’s ever-growing absentee list – Moises Caicedo the latest addition through a ‘high fever’.

It was the Albanian Broja who would have the first sight of goal. With some deft feet it looked like he would be able to fashion a good shot at Jose Sa, and yet some desperate last-ditch defending would deny that eventuality. Jackson similarly was found by a neat through ball just minutes afterwards, but was suitably sluggish and undecisive thus allowing the danger to be smothered.

A nice bit of link-up play between Raheem Sterling and Malo Gusto on the ten minute mark saw the latter get in behind the Wolves backline. A low ball was fired towards Broja but the former Southampton loanee completely fluffed his lines and miskicked the ball in the direction of the corner flag – almost as if he had hit the festive bottle of Baileys a little earlier than usual.

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There was some concern for Sterling after a hadouken like kick to the shin from Nelson Semedo, yet VAR waved it away and the Manchester City legend dusted himself off to get creating again. A peach of a ball to Jackson followed, but the Senegalese failed to bring it under his control.

A lull in the game was spurred by Jackson and Broja’s toothlessness. The next chance was to come via a free kick in a dangerous position on the half hour mark. Sterling stepped up with the delicate poise of a ballerina, but the execution of a brute with the ball sailing high, wide and not so handsome. Wolves would have a free kick of their own in an identical position just seconds later and this looked destined for the target if not for Jackson’s shoulder.

What followed is hard to put into words. Raheem Sterling initially did well to recover possession and could hardly believe his luck as he beared down on goal with Jackson and Cole Palmer to his right, and only Jose Sa to bypass. Inexplicably Sterling decided to take it on himself, firing a pitiful shot right at the Portuguese stopper. The groans from the away end were loud enough, but the global eye roll from millions of Blues supporters could be felt in itself. It was quite possibly one of the most embarrassing moments of the season.

At the other end a member of the Pensioners’ personnel could hold their head high, at least. A dangerous Wolves break was snuffed out by the lightning fast sweeping of Djordje Petrovic, who had managed to stay awake despite the laboured spectacle that was happening in front of him.

The Midlands outfit were growing into the game and Petrovic elected not to come for a searching long ball over the top on the cusp of half-time. Hwang Hee-chan raced through but blazed just over in what was a real let-off for the Blues. The same could be said at the other end, with Palmer seeing a shot on the edge of the box blocked.

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That was to be the last action of a first period that was characterised by the visitor’s profligacy. The familiar attacking malaise was clearly something that had to be rectified, yet Mauricio Pochettino opted to make no changes at the interval.

It was almost calamity from the restart for Chelsea. Thiago Silva slipped allowing Joao Gomes to unleash a vicious shot. The outstretched hand of Lesley Ugochukwu deflected it inches wide of the far post, with VAR thankfully adjudging it to be a case of ball to hand. Almost immediately afterwards Petrovic had to be alert to make a huge point-blank stop from a powerful Toti Gomes header at the back stick.

The tide had turned and the goal was coming, and come it did through a corner from the hosts and the head of a mostly unaware Mario Lemina – who didn’t even jump – in the 51st minute. Mere seconds later Axel Disasi slipped on the ball, allowing Matheus Cunha to square for Hwang. The South Korean international was eventually denied by the duo of Thiago Silva and Levi Colwill, meaning the Blues just about scrambled it away.

Jackson would fail to fire the trigger after two Wolves defenders collided in going for the same ball. Pochettino would answer by throwing Christopher Nkunku and Mykhailo Mudryk into the fray for Ugochuwku and Broja. A spate of yellow cards followed, most notably for Palmer to rule him out of the next game against Crystal Palace. The Frenchman making his Premier League debut for the club was literally inches away from opening his account, if not for desperate antics from Toti on the line to clear.

Gary O’Neil’s side had their backs against the wall and a lovely Chelsea move saw Nkunku feed Palmer, who fed Sterling in turn and the England international dallied too long, allowing Craig Dawson to block a glorious chance. His heroic antics would cost Dawson dearly, leaving the pitch thereafter on a stretcher and emphasising just how much effort Wolves were putting in to cling on.

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Chelsea were pressing the issue and the introduction of Mudryk and Nkunku led to neater play up front, but it was the men in orange who went closest next. A mistake from Gusto found its way to Cunha who blasted a low shot into the side-netting, to the relief of the young Frenchman.

A trio of changes from the visitors came with ten minutes to play, with Pochettino playing his last hand. Noni Madueke, Benoit Badiashile and Ian Maatsen were the men tasked with making the difference, with Levi Colwill, Malo Gusto and Nicolas Jackson heading off. Another substitute, Tommy Doyle, would have the next chance, albeit Petrovic was able to palm away comfortably at distance.

Eleven minutes of added time would give most teams hope, but to this writer it felt merciless of the match officials to extending the misery on Christmas Eve. Indeed, yet another calamtious error at the back left Matt Doherty with the freedom of Molineux to find the bottom corner and secure the win for the West Midlanders. Nkunku would reduce arrears a couple of minutes of stoppage time later, but what was meant to be a feelgood moment came amongst such a Christmas tragedy that it was all in vain.