By Gerry PrewettIt is a little known fact that the last time Bristol Rovers met Chelsea, Rovers won!
The game was played back on 14 March 1981 and it was one of only five victories as the Gas were relegated. Amazingly there were only 7,565 at Eastville to see David Williams score a rare winning goal for the Gas that season.
Since regaining their top-level status in 1989-90 the Blues from West London have rarely looked back. The takeover of the club by Roman Abramovich put them almost literally in a different league to the bulk of the Premier League.
Abramovich’s burning desire for success and his almost unlimited wealth has placed Chelsea in the realms of the world’s super clubs.
After winning the 2004-05 Championship the club has only twice finished outside the top three. Last season was a fractious one at Stamford Bridge and a 10th place finish was about as good as they could expect after a disastrous start to the season saw some of the League’s highest paid players skirting with the relegation spots.
After the completion of Euro 2016 Antonio Conte was appointed Manager after an illustrious career as Manager of Juventus and Italy. Conte’s attention to detail and micro-management backed by his strict disciplinarian approach will broke no slackness from his players.
One player who was often not accused of not pulling his weight last season, Eden Hazard has welcomed the Italian’s approach.
“He’s a good manager, he believes in his team and we try to give everything for him. We want to win for the fans too. It’s early. We have a good team, there are a lot of good teams in the Premier League and we will see at the end, but of course we want to be the champions.”
“The attitude is fantastic, even in training everyone wants to win games. That’s why now we are winning. It’s just the start of the season but if we want to stay at the top we have to win. Both Manchester teams won, we had to win and we did. Two great games, we won two games, I am happy and I want to do my best for this team.”
Their last game was a 2-1 victory at Watford on Saturday, as Rovers were drawing 1-1 at Southend. Etienne Capoue had put the Hornets ahead on 56 minutes as the hosts appeared to be in control of the game.
Then with just ten minutes left on the clock substitute Michy Batshuayi equalised with his first goal nine minutes after coming on.
Watford’s misery was complete as Diego Costa ran on to substitute Cesc Fabregas' pin-point pass and slid the ball under Heurelho Gomes with barely three minutes left to give Conte his second 3 point haul of the season.
Rovers and Chelsea have crossed paths just 11 times over the years and the first of those meetings was in a Fourth Round FA Cup tie at Eastville, Rovers had beaten Portsmouth 2-1 in the 3rd Round and came up against the team that went on to be Champions.
Playing in White shirts and Black shorts Rovers were 3-0 down at half-time, Frank Blunstone, John McNichol and Eric Parsons giving the Londoners an unassailable lead before Jackie Pitt pulled one back from the penalty spot in front of a packed 35,972 crowd.
It was twenty years later before the clubs met again and in that season they had two Division 2 clashes and another Cup-tie. In the League Chelsea won 2-1 at Eastville and there was a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge. In the Cup Alan Warboys and Bill Garner traded goals on New Years Day at Stamford Bridge. Kenny Swain scored Chelsea’s winner at Eastville in the replay.
The biggest margin between the teams was recorded on 23 February 1980 as a Chelsea team which was to eventually finish 4th went down 3-0 to goals by Shaun Penney (2) and Tony Pulis. The overall picture reads 3 Rovers victories, 2 draws and 6 Chelsea wins.
Looking at his squad this season Chelsea boss Conte has made it plain that the club are looking to sign a new defender as he is concerned over the lack of depth in that area, “If you look now at our squad, we have only five defenders, four that started today and an academy player Ola Aina. Ola is very good, he has great potential, but with any young player you must work to put them in the first team. Sure, he has a good future.”
“If one defender is injured or banned, then we are in trouble, but the club and me we know this and we are talking every day to improve the squad. We know that this market is very difficult. It’s crazy. I don’t want to buy only to buy. I want to buy the right profile for Chelsea, the right investment for the solution and for the future.”
On Saturday N’Golo Kante once more impressed for Chelsea as a midfield mole, who pops up everywhere. He said after Saturday’s victory, “We hope to keep going in this way. We know when you come to Watford it will be a difficult game and it was. Watford are a good team but we won and we are happy.”
“I am pleased to be a Chelsea player and I am happy with the start. The break (after the Euros) was short but a new challenge has started for me and it’s exciting. We know the coach has his idea of football and he tries to teach it to us. We try to win all the games like he wants.”