Getting out of the blocks quickly

There was a huge sense of anticipation among Blues fans when Chelsea travelled up to the Midlands to meet Coventry City on the opening day of the Premier League season almost exactly 15 years ago.
Our enthusiasm was quite natural following a successful 1997/98 campaign in which we had finished fourth (our best league performance since 1970) and lifted the League Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

And with the club making a number of big-name additions including Spanish full-back Albert Ferrer, Italian striker Pierluigi Casiraghi, Danish midfielder Brian Laudrup and, most significantly, World Cup-winning French defender Marcel Desailly, there was a feeling that we might just be set for a legitimate title challenge.

FOOTBALL/Pallister chases Casiraghi

But it didn’t take long for us to be brought down to earth as Darren Huckerby and Dion Dublin (who had also scored a hat-trick against us at the same ground in a 3-2 loss on opening day 12 months earlier) netted inside the opening 16 minutes to stake the Sky Blues into a two-goal lead.

Gustavo Poyet pulled one back before half-time but on a frustrating afternoon at Highfield Road, Gianluca Vialli’s men could not find an equaliser as we went down 2-1.
It’s a fairly remarkable scoreline if you consider that the Blues would lose only two more games that season and missed out on the title by only four points.
But what makes that result more significant as we prepare for this weekend’s visit of Hull City to Stamford Bridge is that it remains – a decade and a half on – the last time that we have been beaten in our opening league fixture. Since those back-to-back losses at Coventry, who now sadly find themselves mired in League One, we have played 14 opening day games, winning 12 of them and drawing the other two.
That’s a pretty good record of consistency although it would be wrong to suggest that it has all been plain sailing for us during that span.

True, there were a couple of crushing home wins against newly-promoted sides – 4-0 over Sunderland in 1999 and 6-0 against West Bromwich Albion in 2010 – as well as a 4-0 demolition of FA Cup holders Portsmouth in 2008.
But more often than not, the victories have been hard fought affairs.
We came from two goals down to beat Charlton 3-2 at The Valley in 2002, downed Liverpool 2-1 with a late Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink strike at Anfield the following year and edged Manchester United 1-0 in 2004 en route to winning the league for the first time in half a century.
But while that win against Man United was an emphatic statement of intent in Jose Mourinho’s first game in charge of the Blues, other Premier League triumphs have started off with somewhat fortuitous wins against teams tipped to struggle.

In 2005, we travelled to Wigan as league champions but laboured against the newly-promoted side for much of the game before stealing all three points right at the end thanks to a wonder goal by Hernan Crespo in stoppage time.
And in 2009, we hosted Hull City at the Bridge and came from a goal down to win 2-1 thanks to Didier Drogba’s chip-in from the left by-line right at the death.

BRITAIN SOCCER WIGAN CHELSEA

Now I’m not suggesting that we don’t try to go for a big win against Hull this weekend because we seem to do better if we begin the season with a hard-fought win.
But as long as we get the three points against the Tigers and maintain that remarkable run that has yet to see us beaten on opening day in this millennium, I’m sure that we as Chelsea fans will be more than happy.

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