Stoke frustrate Chelsea
Andre Villas-Boas endured a frustrating introduction to the Premier League as Chelsea failed to secure an opening day victory for the first time in 12 seasons after being held to a 0-0 draw at Stoke today. Villas-Boas was taking charge of his first competitive match following his close-season move from Porto and the new Chelsea boss was denied victory by Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who produced a string of excellent second half saves to keep the Blues at bay.
"I can't be pleased with a point, but it's one of the most difficult grounds to play at. For our title challenge I would say one point at Stoke is not bad," Villas-Boas said. "It's not the greatest start to the Premier League of course, but we are happy we raised the level of the game in the second half. Unfortunately for us the goal didn't happen."
Chelsea were convinced they should have had a 55th minute penalty after Frank Lampard appeared to fall in the area after a challenge from Marc Wilson but a draw was a fair result in what was a predictably bruising battle at the Britannia Stadium. Villas-Boas instantly made his mark by starting with Fernando Torres ahead of Didier Drogba but, although the Spain international showed flashes of inspiration, his side could not find a way past Begovic and a Stoke defence marshalled superbly by new signing Jonathan Woodgate.
While Stoke boss Tony Pulis is set to rack up his 800th game in management next week, Villas-Boas is the fourth youngest manager in Premier League history. The 33-year-old has made it patently clear that only a title triumph is acceptable this season and a visit to this unforgiving venue was always going to prove a good indication of what he can expect. His team selection already suggested he is not afraid to make tough decisions and the inclusion of Torres, with Drogba and Nicolas Anelka starting on the bench, was proof that he will do things his way.
Early on Torres looked determined to repay the faith of his new manager, buzzing about with intent in the opening quarter of an hour before a crunching challenge from Ryan Shawcross - which earned a booking - knocked him out of his stride. Chelsea had won their last nine opening games of the season and arrived in the Potteries with confidence high after a 100 per cent record in pre-season.
Jose Bosingwa almost caught out Begovic with a cross-cum-shot at the near post, while Stoke eventually settled after a hesitant start to launch an aerial bombardment on their opponents. To his credit, Petr Cech dealt admirably with Rory Delap's long throws and John Terry kept the powerful Kenwyne Jones relatively quiet in an opening 45 minutes of few clearcut chances.
But the second period exploded into life when Chelsea were convinced they should have a penalty. Lampard was brought down in the area by Stoke defender Wilson but Halsey waved away their claims as the England midfielder appeared to go to ground before being touched.
Chelsea almost took the lead barely seconds later when John Obi Mikel's spectacular dipping volley was turned over the bar by Begovic. Begovic then performed heroics to deny Anelka and Salomon Kalou and the game petered out to a draw, with Villas-Boas contemplating a solid if not sensational start.