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Over Land and Sea

Discussion in 'Fanfics & Writing' started by Wessexbrony, 19 January 2019.

  1. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 17

    Do or Die?

    Wednesday 6th December

    With one round of the Champions League group games left, the situation was fairly straightforward. If Chelsea were to get at least a draw against Benfica, they would qualify for the knockout stage, although they would have to face a group winner due to Bayern’s better head-to-head record.

    Of course, for the unicorn who had been in my care for nearly six months now, qualification was vital to keep hopes of the treble - and a reunion with her mother back in Ponyville - alive.

    “Nervous?” I asked, as we left the flat and began the walk to the stadium.

    “A little,” she admitted.

    “We’ll be alright,” I said, as Rainbow Dash fell in alongside us. “Since the Bayern game, we’ve turned a corner. All we need to do is score early and give ourselves some breathing space.”



    “Welcome to the final group game of the Champions League,” Big Match said. “We’re at Stamford Bridge, for this make-or-break clash between Chelsea and Benfica. Chelsea occupy that all-important second spot in the group, with Benfica needing a win to go through. For Chelsea, a draw would be enough…”

    “So we’re OK if we draw?” Derpy asked Twilight in the Traveller’s Rest.

    “Yes,” Twilight replied. “You see, Chelsea are second at the moment, so Benfica need to win or they have to make do with a UEFA Cup spot.”

    “The stadium is packed out for the final group game,” Kick Off announced, as the two teams took to the field, “And Mourinho has gone with his two best strikers up front. Danny Doyle is on the bench, hoping to make his Champions League debut, but Mourinho has said he does not want to take risks. He’s also said that he won’t be happy with a draw, only a win - and a convincing one at that - will suffice.”

    Of course, the last three games had fired Chelsea up and they attacked from the start. It took just two minutes for the home side to create a chance, with Arjen Robben’s cross being volleyed over the bar by Drogba.

    With just over ten minutes gone, Fontana played the ball to Drogba, who got free of the defence. His shot was saved by Quim, but but Fontana pounced on the rebound and steered the ball into the empty net to give Chelsea the early goal Mourinho had demanded.

    Benfica were being pinned back, and in the fifteenth minute, another cross from Robben was met by the head of Fontana. The Spaniard sent his header goalwards, but Quim tipped it against the bar and it was cleared by Ricardo Rocha.

    It took until the 20th minute for the Portuguese side to get forward. Katsouranis, who had scored Benfica’s second goal against Chelsea in Lisbon back in September, took the ball down the right and crossed it into the area, only for it to be cleared by Paulo Ferreira. Chelsea then went on the counter, and only a smart save by Quim prevented Drogba from doubling the advantage before the ball was cleared by Nelson.

    Four minutes later, another attack by Robben down the left saw the Dutch winger send in a cross. Fontana met it with a volley past Quim and into the net to make it 2-0.

    “Fontana again!” Kick Off exclaimed. “That’s surely it now, Chelsea only needed a draw tonight and they lead by two goals to nil with less than half an hour gone!”

    Realising that they were now up against it, Benfica began to look to get forward. Just after the half hour mark, Nuno Gomes took the ball through the Chelsea half, only to see his shot tipped behind by Cech. Four minutes later, Gomes got through again, only to fire wide, while Mourinho berated the defence from the Chelsea dugout. A Chelsea attack on the stroke of half time then saw Robben caught offside, before Simao shot wide for Benfica in first half stoppage time.

    “Well, Chelsea have a commanding lead,” Kick Off said, as the teams left the pitch, “But they can’t afford complacency. A Benfica goal early in the second half could make them very uncomfortable.”

    Benfica did look to score early in the second half, as they won a free kick two minutes after the break. Nuno Gomes took it, but it was headed clear by Terry. The home side then suffered a potential setback ten minutes later, as Drogba pulled up clutching his hamstring and was replaced by Doyle.

    The boy wonder, as some were starting to call him, nearly made an instant impact, as on the hour mark he connected with a cross from Wright-Phillips only to shoot over the bar. Four minutes later, he played Fontana in, and Fontana got into the area. His shot was deflected off a defender to Shaun Wright-Phillips, whose shot was saved.

    The match then went quiet for over 15 minutes, but with eight minutes left, Fontana went on a run through the Benfica half and into the area before being brought down by Luisao for a penalty. Lampard stepped up and smashed the ball into the top corner, sending Quim the wrong way and extinguishing any hope Benfica might have had of qualification.

    There was still time for Chelsea to come forward again at the end of normal time, with Quim saving a shot from Michael Essien. Still, a 3-0 win was more than enough to make it into the knockout stage.

    Chelsea 3-0 Benfica (Fontana 11, 26, Lampard pen 82)

    “So a good victory for Chelsea, in the end, to see them comfortably progress to the round of 16” Big Match said, as the players celebrated in front of the Matthew Harding end. “And although it’s fairly straightforward, here’s how the final group table looks…”

    UEFA Champions League Group F: Final Table

    1 Bayern 14pts
    2 Chelsea 11pts
    3 Benfica 6pts
    4 Celtic 3pts

    Chelsea had been, incidentally, the only British side to win. Bayern won 3-2 against Celtic to finish the group stage unbeaten, while Arsenal were held to a 0-0 draw in Porto. The previous night, Man Utd had drawn 1-1 with Inter at Old Trafford while Liverpool had lost 1-0 to Galatasaray in Instanbul.


    “So who will we play in the next round?” Dinky asked, as I put her to bed that night.

    “Don’t know yet,” I replied. “It’s not like the World Cup, the draw for the Round of 16 is next week and the competition resumes in February.”

    “Who can we play?”

    “Let’s see,” I said, “Given that it has to be a group winner, and we can’t face a team from the same country until the quarter finals, or Bayern, because they were in our group, then it’ll be one of” - I counted on my fingers - “Barcelona, Galatasaray, Valencia, Lyon or Milan.”

    “Not Real Madrid?”

    “They finished second to Lyon.”

    There was something on my mind as I went to bed that night. Dinky had been in London for nearly six months now - it would be six months on Saturday - and there’d been no mention of visitation rights. Surely I should have received something by now?

    I’ll write to whoever the pony was - Autumn, I remembered - tomorrow, I thought, as I nodded off. At any rate, things were potentially looking up. Chelsea were through to the last 16 of the Champions League and had moved up to second in the table within five points of Manchester United.

    A/N: Between 1999 and 2003, the UEFA Champions League included a second group stage, which was scrapped due to fixture congestion.

    In the World Cup (and European Championship), the brackets are sorted out when the competition is drawn due to the fact that the tournament lasts a month. The Champions League starts in July and ends in May, allowing for a slower pace.

    There is one exception to the “no teams from the same country playing each other until the quarter finals” rule - Liverpool were not given “country protection” in 2005 (due to winning the tournament but finishing 5th in the Premier League, and as such having to start from the first qualifying round) and so ended up in the same group as Chelsea. The rule was subsequently changed so that the holders would qualify automatically for the group stage.
     
  2. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 18

    They Think it’s All Over

    It is always darkest just before the dawn.” - source unknown

    If you’re going through Hell, keep going.” - Winston Churchill

    As much as things were looking up on the football front, it became clear as December wore on that Dinky was becoming increasingly homesick. She had slept facing Hyde Park, where the embassy was located, almost since arriving in London, and I had not failed to notice the longing tone in her voice when she had told me about Sugarcube Corner, and its speciality hot chocolate which came practically buried under a mountain of cream and marshmallows.

    And, of course, there was the daily postcard or letter from Ponyville which she would add to the collection in her bedroom, which had started with the poem which had arrived in London the day after she had. You didn't have to be Albert Einstein to know who was sending them.

    Sunday 10th December

    “Sorry to keep you waiting,” I said, as Dinky and I joined Rainbow Dash outside the building, Dinky hastily wiping specks of custard off her face from her apple crumble, “We were watching the FA Cup 3rd Round draw.”

    “Who did we get?” Rainbow Dash asked.

    “We’re away to Watford.” Dinky replied.

    “That’s got to favour us, surely.”


    “Yes, I know. You said it would hurt the team.” I said to Rainbow Dash as the final whistle blew.

    Just when it seemed things had been looking up, yet another setback had occurred, this time against Manchester City. Things had started badly when veteran striker Paul Dickov had given the visitors the lead after just ten minutes. Fontana had equalised just after half time, but had spent the best part of the game going for glory as opposed to playing in his teammates. And with two minutes to go, a free kick had found Joey Barton, who had volleyed the ball past Cech to give City the three points. With Arsenal and Liverpool both winning, Chelsea had dropped to 4th, and Manchester United had won 2-0 at Charlton to maintain their 5-point lead. And that was before I received a letter back from Autumn which offered an irritatingly vague explanation of “Problems with the form”.


    Thursday 14th December

    “So that means AS Roma will face Manchester United. Next tie…”

    The UEFA executive reached into a bowl of plastic footballs marked “runners-up”, and opened one.

    “Ajax, will face...AC Milan.”

    “At least we avoided them,” I said, as the next runner-up was drawn.

    “Chelsea, will face…Galatasaray.”

    “Oh, that’s just brilliant.”

    The draw for the Champions League round of 16 did not go unnoticed. The war of words between Mourinho and Galatasaray had escalated ever since the middle of October, after Carvalho had needed a second operation on his foot.

    To make matters worse, that seemed to be the least of Chelsea’s worries. Fontana’s attitude had been brought under question following the introduction of Danny Doyle, and there were rumours of conflict in the dressing room. Fontana, meanwhile, claimed that he was committed to Chelsea, and as far as the fans were concerned, a tough away trip to Newcastle the following Sunday seemed to be the perfect opportunity to prove it. In addition, Everton had beaten Manchester United 3-2 at Goodison Park in the Saturday lunchtime kick off, so a win was imperative to cut the gap on them back to five points. With Drogba still not fit, Doyle started up front with Fontana. And coupled with Chelsea’s less-than-stellar record at St James’ Park in recent years, with the Toon Army looking to break into the top six, it seemed that this was where Fontana had to justify his price tag.

    “Well, it’s been fairly even here so far,” Kick Off said, as the match entered its fifteenth minute, “But it’s Lampard, passes to Fontana. Fontana has Doyle and Lampard as options, but he’s gone for it himself...and that was a very poor effort.”

    “It's Dyer now,” Kick Off continued, “And he's looking to create something here. It's a good pass, too. Here's Obafemi Martins taking over, he's got into the area, and he scores! A great move by Newcastle, and they lead with twenty minutes gone, but it all stemmed from Fontana carelessly giving the ball away!”

    Things didn't get any better as the game wore on.

    “Here's Robben,” Kick Off said, as the second half began. “He plays it to Lampard, now Fontana taking over, Doyle's calling for it, Fontana looks to go it alone, and he's crowded out by Babayaro and N’Zogbia.”

    “Just over 25 minutes left, and it's a corner to Newcastle. Duff to take, against his former club. Floats it into the area, up goes Steven Taylor, it's in! The Chelsea defenders looking at each other, as if to say 'Who was marking him’ and it's now two-nil to Newcastle!”

    “Into the last ten minutes, and it's Essien, plays a through pass to Doyle. Doyle goes for it from the edge of the area, and that's so unlucky! Off the crossbar, and it's hacked clear by Taylor!”

    “And there's the final whistle, a poor performance by Chelsea there, which will not do their title hopes any good, and now Terry and Fontana are arguing about something, and... goodness me! Fontana has shoved Terry in the chest! Lampard and Duff are now keeping the two apart, Mourinho is absolutely furious, and it looks as though we are seeing Chelsea's title challenge disintegrate!”

    Newcastle United 2-0 Chelsea (Martins 20, Taylor 63)

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 41pts
    2 Arsenal 37pts
    3 Liverpool 36pts
    4 Chelsea 33pts
    5 Tottenham 31pts
    6 Bolton 31pts
    7 Newcastle 29pts

    The walk back from St James’ Park to the station was only half a mile, but it seemed like the distance between Newcastle and London. As the supporters’ charter train picked up speed on its run south, Dinky made her way to the toilet at the end of the carriage, locked the door, and allowed the tears to start falling.

    In Ponyville, tears ran down Derpy's face as she looked at a picture of her and Dinky that had been taken the previous Mother's Day, as Kick Off's line “we are seeing Chelsea's title challenge disintegrate!” played in her head. Twilight and Rainbow Dash sat either side of her, each of them having put a foreleg around her.


    Monday 18th December

    “...with several of Europe’s top clubs monitoring the situation, Mourinho has said that Fontana is crucial to Chelsea.”

    “As if anypony believes that,” Autumn muttered to herself as she went to make a cup of tea and see if there was any cake left in the kitchen.

    “You haven’t seen Belladonna anywhere, have you?” she asked Lyra about five minutes later.

    “She went off somewhere for the afternoon,” Lyra replied. “Said it was important, and when I asked her she said that I should mind my own business.”

    “You don’t think…” Autumn tailed off, suddenly not feeling particularly hungry or thirsty.


    “You.” Rainbow Dash growled, glaring at Belladonna.

    “Me.”

    “You’ve got some nerve showing your face around here.” Rainbow Dash continued, as she and Twilight closed ranks in front of Derpy.

    “That’s no way to talk to a high-ranking public servant” - Rainbow Dash snorted at this - “such as myself.”

    “What do you want?” Twilight asked.

    “Well, Chelsea’s recent form is very concerning, isn’t it?” Belladonna said, not sounding at all concerned. “Losing their last two matches, infighting in the squad…”

    “Get to the point,” Twilight interjected.

    “I think that if Chelsea fall out of the top four - and I believe they face Liverpool on Saturday, don’t they? - then it’ll be time to blow the final whistle on this silly agreement.” Belladonna concluded, and walked away.

    As Twilight put a wing around Derpy, it took virtually all of her magic to stop Rainbow Dash from going after Belladonna and beating seven bells out of her.


    “We have to win on Saturday.”

    “Indeed,” I replied, a bit puzzled as to why Derpy had rung up - she didn’t normally make phone calls. “If we want to win the title, then-”

    “No, you don’t-you don’t understand! We have to win, or they’ll-they’ll cancel the agreement!”

    “What?”

    “If-if B-Bol-Bolton win, or T-Tottenham win, and-and we lose, then that’s it! I’ll ne-nev-I’ll never see my muffin again!”

    My heart dropped like a stone as I tried to process what I’d just been told, as Derpy spoke again.

    “Please, let me speak to her.”

    “It’s for you,” I said, as I handed Dinky the receiver with a growing feeling of dread.

    “Mommy?” Dinky asked.

    “Whatever happens, Muffin, don’t worry about me. Just..don’t forget me.”

    “Mommy, what’s going-”

    “I love you, Muffin,” Derpy said, and hung up.

    “What’s going on?” Dinky asked, as she turned to face me. “It’s like the day that it happened! Please tell me!”

    I sighed.

    “Dinky, if-if we lose on Saturday, and Bolton or Tottenham win, then we drop out of the top four. And if that happens, Belladonna’s going to cancel the agreement about the treble. I’m-I’m so sorry...”

    In the end, all I could do was put my arms around her as she sobbed uncontrollably into my chest.


    Saturday 23rd December

    “You really don’t have to do this.” Rainbow Dash told Derpy, as the kick off time approached.

    “I’m not going to give her the satisfaction,” Derpy responded, as Twilight showed up.

    “At any rate, I’ll be with you.” Twilight interjected.

    “And me.” Rainbow Dash added, but Derpy shook her head.

    “You’ve been here for me all week,” she said. “You have a season ticket. Go to the match.”

    Rainbow Dash looked at Twilight, who nodded. She began to set off, but turned around.

    “Derpy, look at me.” she said. “We will. Beat. Liverpool.”


    “Two defeats on the bounce and rumours of conflict in the dressing room are not welcome news for Chelsea,” Kick Off said, as the cameras showed the fans arriving at the ground, “and the visit of Liverpool today will not make things any easier. The Reds are looking to bounce back from losing 1-0 at Arsenal last weekend, and…”

    Rainbow Dash and I glanced at each other as the three of us took our seats at the ground. Neither of us could have imagined what must be going through Dinky’s mind, although she’d rejected my offer of staying in the flat and watching the game on TV.

    At any rate, the tension in the ground was so thick you could have spread it on toast, and even The Liquidator seemed forced as the teams made their way onto the pitch.


    “...and that was late by Terry, and the referee is reaching for a card here...and it’s red!”

    If the mood had been grim beforehand, it was getting a lot grimmer now. Liverpool had edged the opening 25 minutes, and a rare Chelsea attack had seen Fontana give the ball away. Craig Bellamy had looked to counter, and had been brought down by the Chelsea captain, who was now going for an early bath. Thankfully, Gerrard spooned the free kick over the bar, but Mourinho needed to make a change, and Fontana’s number came up as he brought Paulo Ferreira on to fill the gap in defence. The Spaniard did not take it well, storming down the tunnel without even looking at his manager.

    With the man advantage, however, Liverpool began to dominate, and created numerous problems for the home side. In the 33rd minute, Mohamed Sissoko sent a cross into the area, which Kovac scrambled clear after a defensive mix-up.

    It took until the 44th minute for Chelsea’s first real chance. Arjen Robben was able to get past Steve Finnan and cross the ball in for Drogba, whose volley flashed wide of the post.

    Liverpool continued to dominate into the second half, as it seemed to follow a pattern; either Mohamed Sissoko or Jermaine Pennant would send a cross into the area, which would then be headed clear. Chelsea attacked again, midway through the second half, with a shot from Drogba being saved by Reina in the Liverpool goal before Lampard hit the side netting. As the game entered the last fifteen minutes, both Gerrard and Kuyt were denied by Petr Cech as Chelsea somehow continued to hold on as a cross from Gerrard was headed clear with four minutes remaining.

    As the fourth official held up his board to indicate added time, Liverpool looked to attack once more. Dinky, as she had done at Fratton Park back in September, shut her eyes and looked away.

    “I’m sorry, but it’s time.”

    “If we drop out of the top four, they’re going to cancel the agreement.”

    “The only thing I ask of you, for whom I’ll always pine,
    Please, please don’t fo-”


    “Look!”

    Dinky was suddenly awoken - and nudged, by Rainbow Dash - from her thoughts by mine and Rainbow Dash’s exclamations. Liverpool’s attack had broken down, with Essien winning the ball and passing to Joe Cole out wide. Cole had gone on a storming run down the right, leaving Steven Warnock trailing in his wake as he took the ball level with the penalty spot and shaped to cross.

    “Someone’s going to have to get on the end of that…” I muttered.

    And someone did. Breaking free as soon as the ball was crossed, Drogba beat Carragher into the area and sent the ball rocketing into the net with a left-footed volley that gave Reina no chance.


    “Derpy, look! Look! Look, Derpy, they’ve won!”

    Derpy opened her eyes and peeked out from behind her wing to see Drogba, followed by several team-mates, racing away towards the Chelsea dugout while the Liverpool players berated each other and Kick Off sang the praises of what he called “a fantastic counter-attack! And Chelsea, who have been on the back foot throughout, are going to come away from this with an absolutely vital win!”

    Barely two minutes later, Mike Riley blew the final whistle, and Blue is the Colour blared out of the tannoy. To Dinky, it was possibly one of the most beautiful sounds she’d ever heard.

    Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool (Drogba 90+2, Terry s/o 26)



    Premier League Table (*Indicates team yet to play)

    1 Man Utd 41pts*
    2 Arsenal 37pts*
    3 Liverpool 36pts
    4 Chelsea 36pts
    5 Tottenham 31pts*
    6 Bolton 31pts*

    A/N: And here we have the longest - and, in numerous parts, bleakest, chapter that I’ve written. Ironically, the chapter title comes from Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary on the 1966 World Cup Final.

    At the time this is set, the FA Cup 3rd round draw was broadcast on the Sunday of the 2nd round weekend. I distinctly remember watching that season’s draw on the sofa with a bowl of apple crumble.

    In 2006, Manchester City were far from the powerhouse that they are today.

    Kick Off does have a point here; an on-field altercation between two players isn’t going to be any help to a title challenge. Fontana, meanwhile, is basically Zlatan Ibrahimovic with all of the ego and about half of the talent.

    In case you didn’t already consider Belladonna to be a nasty piece of work who shouldn’t be allowed in a position any higher than traffic warden... (and even that’s a stretch...)

    As said previously, part of the basis for this was Today, Tomorrow and Forever.

    No princess had any part in the result; Liverpool just couldn’t convert their chances.

    The match was a 12:30 kick off, so no other teams have played yet.
     
  3. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 19

    And Christmas comes once more

    The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more” - O Little Town of Bethlehem, verse 4 (not traditionally sung)

    Saturday 23rd December

    As Blue is the Colour played on the tannoy and the supporters celebrated a vital win, I whispered something in Rainbow Dash’s ear. The three of us then made our way out of the stadium, but I stopped outside the megastore.

    “Wait there a minute,” I said, pulling out my mobile phone. “I just need to make a quick call.”

    I returned a couple of minutes later.

    “Let’s stop somewhere on the way back,” I said, as we began to head towards the apartment while Rainbow Dash made a beeline for the portal. “I don’t know about you, but I could really do with a hot chocolate after that. Preferably one with plenty of cream and marshmallows.”

    Dinky nodded, the feeling returning to her legs as the relief she'd felt since the final whistle continued to wash over her.


    “Get IN THERE. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, you jumped-up dictator.” Lyra muttered to herself as she noticed the result, before she found herself being tapped on the back. She turned around, and Rainbow Dash promptly whispered something in her ear. She nodded.

    Suddenly the damp patch on her chest, where Derpy had cried into it the previous afternoon, and which she had still felt even after a long shower, wasn't anywhere near as noticeable.


    “I knew you'd like it,” I said, as I used my teaspoon to fish around for the last few marshmallows at the bottom of the mug. “Anyway, we'd best head back. The half time scores are going to be coming in and we need to know how the sides around us are doing.”

    The two of us set off as Dinky licked specks of cream off her face.


    “... and Bolton now trail by two goals to nil. Goal to tell you about in the Championship...”

    The doorbell rang.

    “I'll get it,” I said, getting up. Dinky raised an eyebrow - I always got the door anyway.

    “I just hope it's not one of those cold callers…” I audibly muttered, as I went to answer the door. This further piqued Dinky's curiosity - the building had a rigidly enforced “No Cold Callers” policy.

    She got down from the sofa and turned to face the front door - and found herself facing a grey pegasus with a blonde mane. Both ponies stood facing each other for a moment. Six hours beforehand, they'd been practically convinced that they were never going to see each other again. And then…

    “Mommy!”

    “Muffin! Oh, my Muffin, I've-I've missed you so much-!”

    Allowing them some privacy, I left them to their joyful - and tearful - reunion and went back to the sofa, just in time to hear about an equaliser in the Tottenham game.


    Barely half an hour later, the three of us were sat at the kitchen table. The two ponies had eventually liberated each other from their tight hug and a pot of tea has being consumed whilst I listened intently to the radio.

    “Good afternoon. It’s five o’clock, I’m Mark Pougatch, and this...is Sports Report.”



    “Late drama at Stamford Bridge as a stoppage-time goal from Drogba secures the points for ten-man Chelsea…” Jonathan Pearce’s voice was then heard.

    “What a run this is down the right from Joe Cole, sends a cross into the area, Drogba’s there! Didier Drogba has won it for Chelsea!”

    “Bolton and Tottenham both slip up and lose ground on the top four, Manchester United march on, Everton climb up to seventh. In the Championship, Birmingham go six points clear at the top…”

    “But...how?” Dinky finally asked, as Mark Pougatch continued to summarise the football news. “How were you able to get here?”

    “Rainbow Dash lent me her season ticket for the game on Boxing Day,” Derpy replied.

    “The FPA can’t stop ponies from attending football matches,” I added. “Unfortunately, for a club like Chelsea, tickets are like gold dust, and this was a spur-of-the-moment thing due to the fact we’re at home.”

    “...but first, the classified results, read by James Alexander Gordon.”

    “Barclays Premiership…”

    Dinky took a moment to digest this. As much as she would have loved it if her mother had been able to stay in London on a permanent basis, this was certainly a lot better than what she’d considered inevitable all week.

    “...Chelsea...one, Liverpool...nil. Everton...two, Reading...nil…”

    “How did-” Dinky asked, but her question was answered for her by the radio.

    “...two, Bolton Wanderers...nil. Manchester United...three, Watford...nil. Newcastle United...nil, Blackburn Rovers...nil.”

    I walked past Dinky’s bedroom that night after Match of the Day, smiling as I looked in to see the two of them cuddled up and evidently sleeping a lot better than they had done all week.

    Either the Foal Protection Agency didn’t have a braincell between them, I thought, as I returned to my room, or their standards were so impossibly high that they’d have sacked Alex Ferguson had they been in charge of Man Utd. Still, the least that the two ponies deserved was a happy Christmas.


    Tuesday 26th December

    Chelsea (4th) vs Reading (9th)

    “I don’t see why Fontana is still in the starting lineup,” I said, as the teams came out for the second half. “We should play Drogba as a lone striker and stick that £16,000,000 lamp-post in the reserves until someone - Bayern, Barnsley, I don’t care who - comes in for him.”

    “Lamp-post?” Derpy asked quizzically.

    “Yes,” I replied. “Although on second thoughts, at least a lamp-post is actually useful.”

    The score stood at 1-1 as the second half started. Fontana had been listless throughout the first half, and ten minutes from the break, Leroy Lita had beaten the offside trap to head the ball past Cech and give Reading the lead. Chelsea had come back, however, and six minutes later Lampard had run onto a pass from Essien before sending the ball past Hahnemann.

    Six minutes into the second half, however, Mourinho had come to the same conclusion as the home support, and once again Fontana was taken off, with Salomon Kalou replacing him. Fontana went off to a chorus of boos and chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”.

    Two minutes afterwards, Drogba played Kalou in. Kalou raced into the area and got a shot off, which went just wide of the goal.

    “See? Much better.” I said, as the team suddenly seemed to pick up.

    In the 63rd minute, John Obi Mikel, on as a substitute for the booked Essien, took off down the left flank before crossing into the area. This time Kalou did not miss, firing the ball under Hahnemann to give Chelsea the lead.

    Chelsea had begun to impose themselves on Reading and five minutes later, it was Wright-Phillips who looked to turn provider, his cross being volleyed just wide by Kalou.

    Reading still had some fight in them, however, and with just under 20 minutes to go, a defensive mix-up saw Lita let in, his shot being saved by Cech.

    With just over ten minutes left, Drogba ran into the area and played a lofted ball to Wright-Phillips, whose shot was saved by Hahnemann. The Reading keeper, however, couldn’t hold it, and Drogba pounced on the rebound to put the result beyond doubt before sliding on his knees to the corner flag. That was his last contribution, as he was then replaced by Boulahrouz to secure the defence.

    There was still time for Kalou to fire a shot just wide, but Chelsea took another three vital points.

    Chelsea 3-1 Reading (Lampard 41, Kalou 63, Drogba 79; Lita 35)

    Although Bolton had beaten Charlton 2-0, Chelsea still held a 5-point lead over them. Liverpool, however, had also won, 2-0 at West Ham, keeping Chelsea in 4th.

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 47pts
    2 Arsenal 43pts
    3 Liverpool 39pts
    4 Chelsea 39pts
    5 Bolton 34pts
    6 Tottenham 33pts

    18 West Ham 18pts
    19 Charlton 13pts
    20 Watford 11pts

    As the pundits on Match of the Day that night discussed Fontana’s interest in playing for a club abroad, the rumour that there were eyes all over Europe on Fontana, and that John Terry, who had missed the game through suspension, was fed up of the whole saga, my mind turned to the following day. Derpy was being picked up at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and taken directly back rather than via the embassy so as to avoid Belladonna finding out; all I knew about the pony escorting her was that it was “somepony I could trust”.

    A/N: There’s a chocolate shop on the high street where I live in Winchester where the hot chocolate is made with chocolate buttons, and it’s as delicious as it sounds.

    Lyra volunteered to be “a shoulder to cry on” back in June.

    Dinky’s guardian made those throwaway comments on purpose, hoping she’d be curious.

    James Alexander Gordon (1936-2014) was the voice of the results on the radio for nearly 40 years, and for many football fans he was synonymous with Sports Report. In addition, Kick Off’s real-life counterpart makes an appearance.

    Alex Ferguson nearly did get sacked in 1990. He survived, and Manchester United dominated English football for nearly 20 years.
     
    #23 Wessexbrony, 15 February 2019
    Last edited: 16 February 2019
  4. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 20

    A Parting of Ways

    Wednesday 27th December

    It was a sad fact that all good things had to come to an end. Two o’clock was imminent, and Derpy was making the most of the last few moments she could spend with Dinky before having to return to Ponyville.

    The doorbell rang and I went up to answer it, taking as long as possible, while the two ponies hugged each other as tightly as they could. And then…

    “Lyra? It’s really you? It’s been so long!”

    “Wait, you know each other?” Dinky asked, five minutes later. The teal unicorn had accepted my offer of a cup of tea, claiming that she could easily allow another half hour.

    “I was an exchange student in London for a term in secondary school around nine years ago,” Lyra explained. “He was part of my host family.”

    “Yes,” I confirmed. “I just didn’t expect-”

    “I’m sorry I didn’t explain,” Lyra continued, “But when Belladonna ordered that Dinky be relocated to London, I had to act quickly, and I knew that I could trust you. It would probably have been better if I’d shown up as opposed to Autumn.”

    “But why London?” I asked.

    “Because if she sees someone she can kick - proverbially, anyway - she’ll do so.” Lyra sighed, helping herself to another biscuit.

    “That would explain the ultimatum she issued last Monday then,” I said, remembering Dinky's damp face and puffy red eyes as she'd entered my room every night that week - it had been just like the first couple of weeks after her arrival.

    “Anyway,” I asked, as the two other ponies made the most of their extended time together, “Why haven’t I received anything regarding visitation rights? I’d be perfectly happy to allow it.”

    “Autumn says she’s having trouble getting the form to the visitation office,” Lyra replied, “Then after getting it back she’d have to send it here for you to sign and return, then she’d have to move onto the next step.”

    “Of course…” I muttered under my breath.


    Half past two arrived all too soon, and both parties exchanged their goodbyes.

    “I wish you didn’t have to go back,” Dinky sniffed, trying very hard not to tear up as the two of them shared one last hug.

    “So do I, Muffin,” Derpy sighed, “But Rainbow Dash needs her season ticket back, Ponyville needs me to deliver their post, and if I stay here there’s a very real risk that Lyra will lose her job.”

    We waved as the two ponies walked down the corridor until they got into the lift.


    Saturday 30th December

    Fulham (12th) vs Chelsea (4th)

    Although Dinky had been sad to see Derpy leave, I couldn’t help but notice that she was much happier for having been able to see her mother again. As the two of us prepared for the West London Derby away to Fulham, news came through which we both found most welcome.

    “We are getting breaking news that Armando Fontana has refused to play in this evening’s match at Fulham,” the Sky Sports News anchor said. “The Spaniard is reported to have gone AWOL this morning and…”

    “Good riddance,” I said.

    “Wait, he’s really going to leave the club?” Dinky asked.

    “If you’re a footballer, you don’t refuse to play,” I explained. “Especially not for someone like Mourinho. The transfer window opens in two days and he’ll be out of the club before you can say ‘Stamford Bridge’.”


    Indeed, the mood on the double-decker bus was fairly buoyant, and as the match at Craven Cottage started, it became clear that Chelsea's spirits were lifted too.

    It took until the eleventh minute for this to bear fruit. Chelsea had dominated from the off and it came as no surprise when Drogba connected with a pass from Essien, charged through the Fulham defence, and powered a shot past Niemi to give Chelsea the lead.

    It seemed as though Chelsea would increase their lead, but a rare Fulham attack in the 24th minute saw a cross headed clear. The clearance, however, was intercepted by Fulham right-back Liam Rosenior, who trapped the ball before sending a blistering shot into the net beyond the outstretched arm of Cech from 25 yards out. It was a spectacular effort, which would win Goal of the Month for December, but it didn’t seem to faze Chelsea, who redoubled their efforts, with Niemi twice pulling off heroics to keep out Lampard and Robben, and Drogba having a header cleared off the line.

    Then, just before half time, a break from Fulham resulted in a corner, from which Carlos Bocanegra managed to scramble the ball over the line to give them the lead against the run of play.

    It was clear, however, that Fulham had been extremely fortunate to be in front, and three minutes into the second half, a cross from Robben found Drogba, who powered a header past Niemi to restore parity.

    “Well, only five minutes of the second half have played so far,” Kick Off said a couple of minutes later, “but Chelsea have been a massively improved side from what we’ve seen for much of December.”

    “Indeed,” Full Time agreed, as Mourinho brought Joe Cole on for Paulo Ferreira in a bid to push forward, “And it has to be down to today’s news, it’s almost certain now that Fontana will be leaving the club, and that’s been a massive lift.”

    In the 58th minute, a Fulham throw-in was intercepted, and Drogba played a short pass to Kalou. Kalou ran through the Fulham half and, from 25 yards out, hit a low shot which settled in the net off Niemi’s left hand post.

    Fulham’s heads seemed to drop at this, and four minutes later Drogba won possession and went for goal, only to be denied his hat-trick as the shot went wide.

    With just over fifteen minutes left, it seemed that another Chelsea attack had been stopped when Kalou was fouled by Bocanegra. The referee, however, played advantage, and Drogba passed the ball into the area for Lampard, who fired a right-footed shot across Niemi into the opposite corner of the net to surely put the result beyond doubt.

    There was still time for Joe Cole to send two efforts wide, but Fulham were unable to muster up any threat and Chelsea came away with bragging rights - and all three points.

    Fulham 2-4 Chelsea (Rosenior 24, Bocanegra 44; Drogba 11, 48, Kalou 58, Lampard 73)

    “Well, a good win against a local rival, Arsenal and Bolton both being held, and Fontana’s departure all but confirmed,” I said on the bus back from the ground. “An almost perfect day, football-wise.”

    “What would have made it perfect?” Dinky asked.

    “United not winning.” I replied.

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 50pts
    2 Arsenal 44pts
    3 Liverpool 42pts
    4 Chelsea 42pts
    5 Tottenham 36pts
    6 Bolton 35pts

    18 West Ham 18pts
    19 Charlton 16pts
    20 Watford 11pts

    “You know,” I said the following morning, as Dinky once again lay curled up on my bed, “I think I’ll write to the British Embassy next October and sort out something with a lot more substance for next Christmas. From what I’ve been told about the British Ambassador to Equestria, he’d run rings around Belladonna without breaking a sweat. Anyway,” I continued, switching on the radio on my bedside table, “Let’s see what the morning’s football news has to say.”

    “...and in a statement this morning, Bruce Buck has announced that he has given Mourinho permission to sell Fontana. Although clubs from all over Europe are after the forward, Fontana has requested that he be sold to a Premier League side…”

    “That makes sense,” I said, “He's played for us in the Champions League, so he won't be able to play in Europe with another club this season.”

    “Meanwhile, news from La Liga this morning is that Eidur Gudjohnsen has handed in a transfer request at Barcelona,” the radio announcer continued, “The former Chelsea forward has claimed to have been underutilised, and has not featured in the Champions League this season…”

    The transfer window opened a couple of days later, and Fontana duly left for Everton. Eidur Gudjohnsen arrived from Barcelona in short order, returning to the club where he'd spent six successful seasons.

    A/N: I couldn't set this story in London and not include a mention of the iconic London bus.

    Unfortunately, if Belladonna found out that Derpy had permanently decamped to London, the blame would fall on Lyra, who would likely be sacked. Derpy just doesn't want to risk that, especially when Lyra's been giving her emotional support since June. Officially, however, Derpy has been in London to watch a football match, something Belladonna has no control or say over.

    Eidur Gudjohnsen played for Chelsea between 2000 and 2006. Ten years later, he was part of the Iceland squad to which England infamously lost 2-1 in the round of 16 in Euro 2016.
     
    #24 Wessexbrony, 16 February 2019
    Last edited: 20 February 2019
  5. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 21

    Assume Nothing

    There are no easy cup ties” - source unknown

    Saturday 6th January

    After a tumultuous December, it was almost a relief for January to arrive and with it, the final part of the treble agreement to start in the form of the FA Cup - the oldest cup competition in football, dating back 135 years.

    However, the FA Cup had a history of “giant killings”, where a team from the lower divisions could knock out a side such as Manchester United. Indeed, Manchester United had been held to 0-0 draws by lower league opposition in the past two seasons; Burton Albion last year, and Exeter City the year before that.

    Chelsea’s campaign to lift the FA Cup, which they had not won since 2000, the last time the final had been played at Wembley stadium before it was rebuilt, would begin in the 5:30 kick off at Vicarage Road, against a Watford side who sat bottom of the Premier League. In the cup, however, that meant nothing.

    “One of the biggest days in the football calendar, it’s FA Cup Third Round Day,” Kick Off announced, “And it’s an all-Premier League tie this evening between Watford and Chelsea here at Vicarage Road…”

    “I reckon we’ve got this,” Rainbow Dash said in the Traveller’s Rest.

    “...and of course, the return to Chelsea of Eidur Gudjohnsen after the controversial departure of Fontana; the Icelandic striker leads the line with Kalou for Chelsea today.”

    “Incidentally, we played here in the third round three years ago,” I said, as the two of us sat down in the away end. “We drew 2-2 and won the replay 4-0.”

    That day, Watford had scored after five minutes, but it was Chelsea who attacked first in the seventh minute. A pass from Lampard found Kalou, who got into the area before seeing his shot cannon back off the post.

    Midway through the first half, Mikel played in Wright-Phillips, who played in Gudjohnsen. Gudjohnsen had a shot, which was saved by Foster.

    Watford’s first real attack came six minutes later, as Chambers’ cross was headed out by Ashley Cole. Mahon got to it, but sent his shot wide.

    Just after the half hour, Kovac passed to Mikel, who played in Robben. Robben found Gudjohnsen, who looked for Kalou. Kaou played in Wright-Phillips, whose shot went in despite Foster getting a hand to the ball.

    In the 37th minute, Smith took the ball down the right and crossed it into the area. Henderson trapped the ball, only to send his shot over.

    Four minutes from half time, Wright-Phillips sent a cross in from the right to Robben. Robben saw his shot strike the post, but he was first to the rebound and looked to play in Gudjohnsen, who was crowded out.

    Watford looked to draw level in the later stages of the first half, as a cross by Chambers was headed clear by Kovac before Henderson sent a shot straight at Cudicini. However, it was Chelsea who nearly had the final say on the half, Kovac seeing a header hit the crossbar from a corner.

    Chelsea continued to dominate as the second half began. Eight minutes in, a cross from Kalou was caught by Foster, before Lampard found Kalou, who sent the shot wide.

    Just after the hour mark, a header by Kovac found Gudjohnsen, who played a one-two with Kalou before setting off into the area. As he looked certain to shoot, however, he was brought down by Jay Demerit. Although the away end called for a sending off, the referee kept his cards in his pocket. Nonetheless, Lampard fired the penalty into the top corner, sending Foster the wrong way.

    That should have been that, but four minutes later, a poor pass from Kovac was intercepted by Chambers, who passed to Kabba. Kabba got past Kovac and cut inside, before sending a shot into the net from a near-impossibly tight angle, despite Cudicini getting a hand to it, to set up a potentially nervy last 25 minutes.

    “Not again,” Rainbow Dash groaned, as Kick Off announced, “now we have a cup-tie on our hooves!”

    However, Chelsea’s response was to bring Boulahrouz on and look to batten down the hatches. Watford found themselves unable to get past Mikel in the Chelsea midfield, or the Chelsea back line.

    Indeed, it was the visitors who looked more likely to score in the closing stages. With two minutes left, Danny Doyle was brought down by the unfortunately-named Danny Shittu, who received a yellow card for the challenge. Lampard looked to go for goal from the free kick, but was too far out. Then, in the first minute of added time, Robben sent a shot wide.

    Watford 1-2 Chelsea (Kabba 65; Wright-Phillips 31, Lampard pen 61)

    “Well, it was closer than they would have liked,” Kick Off said, “But Chelsea make it into the next round of the FA Cup. Watford, meanwhile, now only have the fight against relegation to focus on…”

    “Well, it was closer than I would have liked,” I said, as our train pulled out of Watford Junction, “But we won, and that’s all that matters in this competition.”

    Monday 15th January

    “I still don’t know how Chelsea lost on Saturday,” Lyra said, as she and Autumn waited for the kettle in the staff kitchen to boil, “They had, what, seven shots on target? And yet Blackburn had one and it was the only goal of the game.”

    “Well, that’s football,” Autumn replied. “How did Friday go, by the way?”

    “A lot better than before Christmas,” Lyra replied. “I’d say going to the game on Boxing Day did Ms Hooves the world of good-”

    “I’m amazed the three of you managed to pull it off without certain others finding out.”

    “I have friends where she spent Christmas,” Lyra replied. “When she found out she couldn’t bring the hammer down, she didn’t look at anything related to football for a week. Imagine if Chelsea actually do win the treble-”

    “Not going to happen,” Autumn responded. “They’re too far behind United and I’m still backing Barcelona for the Champions League. At any rate-”

    “Yes, you’ve already said so numerous times,” Lyra interjected. “It’s unnecessarily cruel, done solely to provide false hope, and the proper thing to do would be to arrange visitation rights as soon as possible.”

    “At any rate,” Autumn continued, ignoring Lyra’s jibe, “the information that I was given in May gave me no other option.”

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 51pts
    2 Arsenal 47pts
    3 Liverpool 43pts
    4 Chelsea 42pts
    5 Tottenham 37pts
    6 Bolton 35pts

    18 West Ham 18pts
    19 Charlton 16pts
    20 Watford 12pts

    A/N: The FA Cup really is the oldest cup competition in football, and predates the English Football League by 16 years. One of the most memorable FA Cup matches I attended, in 2015, saw Bradford City come back against a Chelsea side full of experienced players to win 4-2.

    Yes, there really was a player in the 2006-07 Watford side called Danny Shittu.

    For clarification, Lyra is talking about the league match after the FA Cup tie.
     
  6. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 22

    The Turning Tide

    Saturday 20th January

    Aston Villa away was not exactly an ideal fixture off the back of a defeat, as Chelsea had not won at Villa Park since 1999. Still, as I told Dinky that morning, things were looking up. Even Mark Hughes had admitted that Chelsea “should have won by three or four” after the game at Ewood Park, and Villa sat thirteenth in the league after their bright start to the season had turned drab since September.

    The supporters’ charter train departed Euston at 12:40pm, and as the match was an evening kick off, all the other games would be played first.

    “Get in there!” Sweetie Belle shouted excitedly, while a nearby pony from the embassy allowed himself a smile.

    It was the closing stages of the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park, and a hard-fought match seemed to have been won. As the clock ticked around to the 87th minute, a long ball found Mikel Arteta, who had outmuscled Daniel Agger before slotting the ball past Reina to open the scoring. And for the white unicorn filly, who had been given a hospitality ticket courtesy of the Equestrian embassy, it was becoming the best match she'd been to.

    Six minutes later, the referee blew the final whistle, giving Everton a 1-0 win against their bitter rivals.

    “Make the most of that, Dinky.” Sweetie Belle muttered, as she was escorted back to the portal.

    “Well, Chelsea are virtually unrecognisable from what they were not that long ago,” Kick Off said, as Lampard moved across to take a corner 35 minutes into the match. “They're leading 1-0, they’re playing well, and they’re playing together.”

    “Indeed, Kick Off,” Full Time added, “December seems a million miles away now, as do all the troubles they endured in the run-up to Christmas.”

    Chelsea had controlled the game pretty much from the beginning, and in the sixteenth minute, Robben, Drogba and Gudjohnsen had combined for Gudjohnsen to score an easy tap-in.

    Chelsea now looked to increase their lead, and the corner found John Terry, who volleyed the ball wide.

    On the stroke of half time, a long ball from Makelele found Gudjohnsen, who passed to Drogba. Drogba let fly from an angle, his shot being tipped wide by Gabor Kiraly in the Villa goal.

    The corner was cleared, but Essien intercepted the ball and played a long pass to Gudjohnsen. This time, the Icelander looked to shoot, but his shot was saved by Kiraly, who held onto the ball.

    “Well, this is more like it,” I said, as I produced the half time muffins. “This is the side from the last two seasons; we’re finally playing like champions.”

    “And with Liverpool losing earlier-” Dinky added.

    “Exactly.”

    Chelsea looked to dominate the second half as well, and five minutes in a long ball from Makelele found Robben, who took the ball down the right flank. He then looked to send in a cross, but the ball was deflected into the grateful hands of Kiraly. Then, in the 52nd minute, Drogba intercepted the ball and passed to Robben, whose shot was tipped over by Kiraly.

    However, Aston Villa then launched a rare attack, which was deflected behind for a corner. The corner was deflected behind off Michael Essien for another corner, which came to nothing.

    With 25 minutes remaining, Chelsea won a corner, which was cleared. The ball was cleared back in for Drogba, who sent the shot wide.

    “I don’t like this,” Rainbow Dash complained in the Traveller’s Rest as the second half wore on, “So many times this season, our failure to convert chances has cost us. We nearly lost to Blackburn back in August, we did lose at Blackburn last week despite having seven shots on target to their one, and the longer that this stays 1-0, then the bolder Villa will become.”

    Twilight wanted to give her a withering look, but she knew that Rainbow Dash was technically right; the game against Watford in the FA Cup had been nervy in the last 25 minutes, and although Chelsea continued to control the match, there was still just the one goal in it as Doyle came on to replace Gudjohnsen for the last ten minutes.

    Then, with four minutes to go, Essien played the ball to Robben, who raced down the right flank. He cut inside between Ridgewell and Bouma before firing the ball past Kiraly at the near post to double Chelsea’s lead.

    “Finally,” Rainbow Dash said, as the Chelsea players, fans, and Derpy all celebrated. “Took them long enough, but that’s surely the three points in the bag now.”

    It wasn’t, however, the last goal of the game. In the first minute of stoppage time, Geremi passed to Essien, who once again played in Robben on the right. Robben took the ball into the area and fired the ball across Kiraly to put the icing on the proverbial cake.

    Aston Villa 0-3 Chelsea (Gudjohnsen 16, Robben 86, 90+1)

    “Funnily enough, that was the scoreline the last time we won here,” I said, as Mourinho shook hands with Martin O’Neill and the players left the pitch, before we set off for the station.

    “...Chelsea’s first win at Villa Park in eight years,” Kick Off said, “And it’s a huge boost to their morale. They can’t ask for more than that, and to make things even better, they move up to third in the league thanks to Liverpool’s defeat in the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park earlier today…”

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 54pts
    2 Arsenal 50pts
    3 Chelsea 45pts
    4 Liverpool 43pts
    5 Tottenham 40pts
    6 Bolton 38pts

    18 West Ham 19pts
    19 Charlton 16pts
    20 Watford 12pts

    Monday 22nd January

    “I’m pretty sure that the Ancient Greeks had some sort of story analogous to this,” Autumn muttered to herself, as for the third time she filled in a form recommending that Derpy be granted visitation rights. “Let me think...Lyra?”

    “Yes?” Lyra replied, as she entered Autumn’s office.

    “Who was that guy in Ancient Greek mythology who got sent to Tartarus and had to perform a task that couldn’t be completed?”

    “Sisyphus. He had to roll a huge boulder up a hill and it rolled back down whenever he got near the top.”

    “I know how that feels,” Autumn thought, as she placed it in a hardback envelope, stamped “URGENT” on it, and took it to the internal post trolley. She placed it in the trolley...and noticed another pony watching her.

    “Can I help you, Belladonna?” she asked pointedly.

    “What? Er, no, no, I’m fine. I was just-just going to make a cup of coffee.” Belladonna replied.

    “Well, I won’t stop you,” Autumn icily responded, making a mental note to postpone her next cup of tea by about ten minutes. She hadn’t, however, failed to notice the brief look of panic on Belladonna’s face.

    “I wonder what she might be hiding…” she muttered, as she went back to her office.

    A/N: At the time, Mark Hughes was the manager of Blackburn Rovers.

    The Merseyside Derby is always the early kick off, and Everton really did win the one at Goodison that season.

    As Lyra spent a term in London as an exchange student, it stands to reason that she’d have learned a thing or two about ancient Greek mythology.
     
    #26 Wessexbrony, 18 February 2019
    Last edited: 19 February 2019
  7. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 23

    Two Winter Nights

    “I'm telling you, she's up to something,” Autumn said, as she and Lyra had a drink in The Two Princesses after work on Friday.

    “In what way?” Lyra asked.

    “I'm almost certain that she was spying on me when I posted the form on Monday, she seemed very alarmed when I noticed her. She's always been the nosey type.”

    “Yes, but for something like this, you need solid proof,” Lyra said, “After all, you can't rush in based on hearsay, especially not in our field of work.”

    There was something about Lyra's words which made them echo around Autumn's head as she went home that night.


    Saturday 27th January

    As January drew to a close, a cold snap fell over Britain. Of course, it was usually cold in January, but the temperature dropped into minus figures even south of London. However, Dinky wasn't fazed, telling me that Equestria saw snow from December to February before the ponies cleaned it all up. I idly wondered how much the various train companies would pay for them to come over and clear the rail network, as the BBC News showed footage of it grinding to a halt in the north.

    Fortunately, the draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup had been kind to Chelsea...geography-wise, at least. They would be playing at Fratton Park, where a missed penalty and a late equaliser had saved them from defeat back in September.

    Portsmouth, however, would be up for it, and the weather didn’t make things any easier. Snow had started to fall as the train crossed the South Downs, and it was still swirling around as we took our seats and braced ourselves for the inevitable handbell from the other end of the stadium.

    “I’ve never seen that before,” Dinky said, as the teams emerged with the referee carrying an orange ball.

    “It’s due to the weather,” I replied, “I saw something similar a couple of seasons back.” I omitted to mention that Chelsea had been beaten 1-0 at Newcastle and subsequently knocked out of the FA Cup on that occasion.

    Portsmouth, evidently stung by being denied two points back in September, started quickly, and it took only three minutes for former Arsenal midfielder Lauren to go steaming into the area and connect with Taylor’s pass to slide the ball past Cech.

    Chelsea responded, and in the 20th minute, a lengthy spell of pressure paid off as Lampard’s ball through the middle was latched onto Gudjohnsen, whose shot beat David James to level the scores.

    Four minutes from the break, Lampard himself got on the scoresheet. A long ball out of defence saw Makelele play in Wright-Phillips, who got down the right before sending a cross into the area. Drogba headed the ball back for Lampard, whose low shot fizzed into the bottom corner of the net.

    That should have seen Chelsea through to half time, but, a minute from the break, Portsmouth were able to catch them cold. A long ball allowed Pedro Mendes to beat the offside trap before lifting the ball over the onrushing Cech to bring the hosts level.

    It was certainly thrilling stuff for the neutral, but we weren't watching as neutrals. Portsmouth were showing exactly why they'd been fourth in the league as far into the season as October, and the second half developed into a scrappy midfield battle, with neither side willing to give an inch as the snow continued to swirl around. Then came the final ten minutes.

    A quick break by Kranjcar down the left saw the Croatian send a cross into the area, where Djimi Traore was able to get a shot past Cech to give Portsmouth the lead with nine minutes to go. Dinky's head drooped, while down on the touchline, Mourinho brought on Joe Cole and Michael Ballack, the latter of which was making his first appearance after three months out with an ankle injury.

    It took just five minutes for Chelsea to respond. Joe Cole took the ball down the right and passed to Ballack. Ballack played a pass to Drogba which split the Portsmouth defence wide open, and Drogba had no trouble slotting the ball past David James to bring the scores level for a third time.

    The match was rapidly becoming the tie of the round, and as the last five minutes progressed, nobody wanted to try and second-guess the result. But the pendulum had one last swing in it.

    As the final whistle loomed, Joe Cole once again marauded down the right, only to be pulled back by Lauren. From the free kick, Lampard crossed the ball into the area, and Drogba rose highest to head the ball down into the corner of the net with David James stranded.

    The pendulum had made its last swing, and it had swung to the away side.

    Portsmouth 3-4 Chelsea (Lauren 3, Pedro Mendes 44, Traore 81; Gudjohnsen 20, Lampard 41, Drogba 86, 90)

    “I don’t know about you,” I said, as the two of us headed back towards Fratton station, “But I’d prefer something a little more straightforward in the next round.”

    Dinky nodded breathlessly. In fact, the majority of the supporters heading back to the station were breathless, having experienced an entire season’s worth of emotion in the space of 90 minutes.


    Wednesday 31st January

    “That goal would never have been given at Old Trafford,” Rainbow Dash complained, as the three of us left Stamford Bridge, Dinky looking sadly up at the stars.

    A home game against bottom of the table Watford should have been three easy points. Chelsea had dominated from the beginning, and Eidur Gudjohnsen had seen his shot cannon back off the post in the eighteenth minute.

    However, despite Chelsea’s dominance, it had been the visitors who had struck first. A long ball from a corner found Marlon King, who had sent the ball past Cech to give Watford a shock lead. King had, in fact, been offside by a considerable margin, but the goal had been given.

    Chelsea had come back in the second half, and ten minutes after half time Drogba had scored with a powerful effort. Yet, despite dominating the remainder of the match, hitting the woodwork twice and seeing a shot cleared off the line, Chelsea had been unable to get the second goal and the match had ended 1-1.

    Results elsewhere had been no less frustrating, as Arsenal had been held to a 0-0 draw at home to Newcastle and Manchester United had picked up another three points.

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 57pts
    2 Arsenal 51pts
    3 Chelsea 46pts
    4 Liverpool 46pts
    5 Bolton 41pts
    6 Tottenham 40pts

    18 West Ham 20pts
    19 Charlton 19pts
    20 Watford 13pts

    Autumn watched the news that night, as Headline covered the Premier League round-up.

    “I’m sorry, Ms Hooves,” she thought, “But eleven points? I just can’t see it happening.”

    For some reason, Lyra’s comment about rushing in based on hearsay seemed to keep echoing around her head.


    “Eleven points is still doable,” I said, as I put Dinky to bed that night. “We go on a winning run - and normally, we would have won tonight - United have a bad run...we’re still yet to face them at home. And bigger margins have been overhauled at the top in the past.”

    A/N: There’s normally a spell of colder-than-usual weather in winter in Britain; the “Beast from the East” last year being an example. And every time it snows, the rail network is affected, with the usual “wrong kind of snow” comments.

    Rainbow Dash’s comment is based on a conception in football that Manchester United, especially under Ferguson, used to get the rub of the green in refereeing decisions, through getting soft penalties, larger-than-usual quantities of added time (aka “Fergie Time”) or, in this case, incorrect decisions going against title rivals.

    In the 1995/96 season, Manchester United, at one point, trailed Newcastle by 12 points and eventually won the title, while in the 1997/98 season, Arsenal trailed Manchester United by the same margin and they too would win the title at the end of the season.
     
  8. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 24

    Closing the Gap

    Friday 2nd February

    Dinky half yawned, half groaned as the sound of BBC Radio 1 woke her from her sleep. For a couple of seconds, she stared at the wall, which she knew was on the side of the room facing Hyde Park, along with the framed photo on her bedside table that had been a parting gift from her mother. She rolled onto her back, stretched out, and then noticed something that she hadn’t noticed last night. Alongside a printed and framed copy of the poem she’d been sent back in June was another framed text.

    “I...will...find...a way...or...make...one,” Dinky read out, squinting at it. “Hannibal...Barca.”

    Sleepily wondering what Barcelona had to do with it, she grabbed a towel and made for the bathroom while Chris Moyles sounded from her radio alarm.


    Saturday 3rd February

    As the two of us enjoyed our joint lie-in, Dinky couldn't help but feel nervous. The fixture list on my bedroom wall stated that today's match was away to Arsenal, who were yet to lose at home all season.

    On the other hand, or indeed hoof, Chelsea had been something else since Fontana had left and had dominated every league match in January. In addition, Dinky thought, remembering the game just before her birthday, Manchester United had been unbeaten before Chelsea had faced them.

    The match would be the early kick off, and was being discussed on the radio as the two of us had breakfast.

    “It might be cold outside, but things could not be hotter here at The Emirates,” Kick Off said. “Arsenal host Chelsea with both sides hoping to gain ground on United, and Ashley Cole returns to Arsenal after his controversial departure in the summer…”

    The two of us emerged from Finsbury Park tube station, which was a stone's throw from the stadium. I'd even pointed it out to Dinky on the way back from Scotland back in August.

    “The importance of this game could not be underestimated,” Kick Off announced, as the two teams emerged from the tunnel onto the pitch to Fatboy Slim's Right Here, Right Now, “Chelsea's form has just been getting better and better as of late, and this gives them a real chance to put pressure on the top two.”

    “Did I ever tell you about the night we knocked them out of the Champions League in their own backyard?” Rainbow Dash asked in the Traveller's Rest.

    Many had predicted a close game, but as early as the fourth minute, Arjen Robben intercepted the ball and broke down the right. He sent a cross to the far post for Drogba, who hit the side netting after his initial shot was saved by Lehmann from point blank range. Then, ten minutes in, Ferreira beat Hleb in the air and headed the ball to Makelele. Makelele played a volleyed pass to Robben, who played a first time pass to Drogba. Drogba ran at the defence before passing to Gudjohnsen, who got into the area before firing a shot past Lehmann into the opposite corner of the net.

    “Brilliant build-up play by Chelsea there!” shouted Kick Off. “They moved the ball like lightning, and turned defence into attack with no trouble!”

    Chelsea, of course, wanted it to be the first of many, and five minutes later Gudjohnsen sent in a cross, which was cleared. In the twentieth minute, Makelele played a long ball to Drogba, who beat the offside trap before shooting well wide.

    It took over 20 minutes for Arsenal to get forward. Gilberto Silva got past Essien and passed to William Gallas. Gallas looked to find Adebayor in the area, but his cross was headed clear by Ashley Cole.

    Chelsea then counter-attacked, and Essien’s pass found Robben, who passed to Makelele. Makelele fed Lampard, who took the ball to the edge of the area and let fly from 20 yards. His shot struck the post, and Robben sent the rebound wide with the frame of the goal still shaking. Arsenal, meanwhile, just couldn’t get forward, as Hleb was tackled by Ferreira before he could set an attack up. Chelsea kept coming forward, and both Robben and Drogba sent shots wide as the half hour mark passed.

    With just under ten minutes to go until half time, an interception by Paulo Ferreira set Lampard up in the middle. Lampard played the ball in out wide to Gudjohnsen, who drilled a low cross into the area. Drogba beat Senderos into the area, chested the ball down, and sent it into the roof of the net.

    “I can’t see Arsenal coming back from this,” I said, after the away fans had finished celebrating. “They look completely devoid of ideas, and there’s still the whole second half to play.”

    Indeed, Chelsea looked more likely to score a third, and Gudjohnsen struck the post three minutes from half time before he saw a cross caught by Lehmann three minutes into the second half.

    Realising before half time that they had little chance of getting back into the match, a large number of home supporters had taken to booing and jeering Ashley Cole over his decision to join Chelsea. Cole nearly threw their taunts back in their faces in the 53rd minute, capitalising on an Arsenal defensive error before sending a shot into the side netting.

    However, two minutes later, the third goal did come. A foul on Arjen Robben saw Chelsea awarded a free kick, and although it was nearly 30 yards from goal, Lampard fired the ball into the net, Lehmann reacting far too late.

    “Well, this is turning into a rout,” Kick Off said, as Lampard was mobbed by his teammates, “Still 35 minutes to go, and Chelsea are showing all the force of a runaway juggernaut.”

    “And to think United and Liverpool both lost here,” Rainbow Dash said, as the free kick was replayed.

    Chelsea took their foot off the pedal after this, with Mikel and Joe Cole replacing Essien and Robben. But it wasn’t until the last fifteen minutes when Arsenal got near the Chelsea goal. Ferreira fouled Hleb, and Henry saw his free kick caught by Cech.

    Indeed, Drogba fired wide twice in the last five minutes, as Chelsea looked to increase their lead even further.

    Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea (Gudjohnsen 10, Drogba 36, Lampard 55)

    “That was as good as Chelsea could possibly have hoped for,” Kick Off said, as Wenger shook hands with a very smug-looking Mourinho, “An excellent performance from Chelsea, and an excellent result to match. They end Arsenal’s unbeaten home record in emphatic style, they temporarily close the gap on Manchester United, they close the gap on Arsenal to two points, and it’s a clear statement of intent…”

    “Well, that’s our end of the bargain held up,” I said, as we left the ground. “Now, how does a hot chocolate sound? With cream and marshmallows, of course.”

    Unfortunately, United responded with a 3-1 win over Tottenham at Old Trafford the following day, a result which actually saw Tottenham fall out of the top six thanks to Portsmouth’s win over Sheffield United. Liverpool, meanwhile, were held by Bolton.

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 60pts
    2 Arsenal 51pts
    3 Chelsea 49pts
    4 Liverpool 47pts
    5 Bolton 42pts
    6 Portsmouth 41pts

    18 West Ham 20pts
    19 Charlton 20pts
    20 Watford 16pts

    A/N: Hannibal reportedly made his quote when told that it would be impossible to cross the Alps with elephants. It is believed that the city of Barcelona is named after him, but this has never been proven.

    The Chris Moyles Show was BBC Radio 1’s morning show from 2004 to 2012. It is now on Radio X.

    The Emirates Stadium, to which Arsenal moved from Highbury in 2006, is visible from the East Coast Main Line next to Finsbury Park station.

    Right Here, Right Now is one of the most popular choices of entrance music in football.

    Ashley Cole moved from Arsenal to Chelsea on transfer deadline day in 2006, with William Gallas moving the other way. Arsenal fans have never forgiven him, especially since Chelsea had tried to sign him the previous summer too.
     
  9. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 25

    Shifting Gears

    Tuesday 6th February

    “...Mourinho has said that he expects a tough test from Manchester City tonight,” Breaking News said on the radio. “Stuart Pearce, meanwhile, has said that City are fully confident of bursting the Chelsea bubble, citing their win at Stamford Bridge in December...”

    “That’s tough talk from someone whose side hasn’t picked up a win since December.” Autumn muttered to herself, as she switched the radio off and went home for the night.


    “United are going to drop points before the end of the season, but it isn’t going to be tonight,” I said, as the supporters’ charter train arrived at Manchester Piccadilly. “I can’t see Charlton getting anything at Old Trafford.”

    “...So we move onto the next fixture tonight, that is the one between Manchester City and Chelsea at the City of Manchester Stadium,” Big Match said. “So, you two say?”

    “Chelsea to win,” Kick Off said, “They’ve travelled in good shape, good form, good spirits, I can’t see anything other than an away win.”

    “It might be tough,” Full Time added, “But City are on the fringes of the relegation battle, so I expect Chelsea to come away with the three points.”

    Of course, after the Arsenal game, Chelsea were in fine fettle, and five minutes in, a ball out of defence found Lampard, who passed to Gudjohnsen. Gudjohnsen played the ball to Drogba on the edge of the area, and Drogba let fly. His shot struck the post, and Isaksson was able to recover to tip the shot wide as he pounced on the rebound. From the resulting corner, he sent the ball wide.

    In the fourteenth minute, Lampard played the ball to Ashley Cole, who played a long ball to Gudjohnsen. Gudjohnsen played a one-two with Drogba, running into the area before sending a shot across Isaksson into the opposite corner of the net.

    “And it's one-nil to Chelsea,” Kick Off said, as he noticed the latest news come in, “And it’s Gudjohnsen again; it’s like he never left.”

    With Gudjohnsen evidently looking to make up for the time lost in those six months at Barcelona, he and Drogba were tormenting the Manchester City defence, and he nearly doubled his tally with 20 minutes gone, sending a shot wide after receiving the ball from Drogba.

    Another opportunity presented itself just after the half hour mark. Ballack and Lampard combined to play Gudjohnsen in, and the shot was deflected behind for a corner.

    Although the corner itself was cleared, Makelele intercepted the clearance and headed the ball to Ferreira, who passed to Essien. Essien took off down the right, getting level with the area, before sending a cross in. Gudjohnsen got to the ball before Micah Richards, sending a volley into the top corner with Isaksson stranded.

    Chelsea looked to control the game from there on out, but on the stroke of half time, a pass from Ferreira was intercepted by Darius Vassell. Vassell, however, sent a weak shot straight at Cech, who had no problem gathering it.

    Leading 2-0 at half time was certainly welcome. Less welcome, however, was the news that, across Manchester, United held a 3-0 lead against Charlton Athletic.

    Chelsea started the second half as they’d finished the first, but it was a massive goalkeeping howler that led to the next goal. Lampard’s corner seemed to be too close to Isaksson, but the Swede failed to communicate properly with Richard Dunne and Kovac stole in to volley the ball home for his first Chelsea goal.

    At this point, the game was as good as over as a contest, and seven minutes later, Gudjohnsen ran onto a pass from Ballack only to see his shot flash wide of the post.

    However, just after the hour mark, the mood took on a sour turn. Petr Cech took a goal kick, but went down clutching his thigh.

    “That’s not good,” I muttered, as the physio ran on. Although Cudicini was a perfectly capable goalkeeper, winning the treble would be a lot more difficult than it already was if Cech was injured for the remainder of the season. Indeed, the physio signalled to the bench, and Cudicini came onto the field as Cech limped off.

    If the injury had affected Chelsea, they didn’t show it. With just under twenty minutes to go, Gudjohnsen looked to turn provider and played in Drogba. Drogba let fly from long range, but Isaksson was able to tip the ball against the crossbar before it was hacked clear.

    A fourth goal seemed inevitable, and with just under fifteen minutes left, Mikel won the ball in midfield and passed to Drogba, who ran through the City half before passing to Gudjohnsen, who ran into the area before slotting the ball past Isaksson into the bottom corner to complete the rout and his hat-trick.

    The final whistle eventually sounded and Stuart Pearce shook hands with Mourinho before storming down the tunnel. I suspected that this time, nobody would want to be in the vicinity of “Psycho” screaming. Chelsea, meanwhile, were currently on their best run all season.

    Manchester City 0-4 Chelsea (Gudjohnsen 14, 33, 77, Kovac 50)

    “United?” Dinky asked.

    “Oh, they won.” I replied.

    “Obviously,” she said, “But how much?”

    “You don’t want to know.”

    “That bad?”

    “Six-nil.”

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 63pts
    2 Arsenal 54pts
    3 Chelsea 52pts
    4 Liverpool 50pts
    5 Bolton 45pts
    6 Portsmouth 42pts

    18 West Ham 20pts
    19 Charlton 20pts
    20 Watford 16pts


    Wednesday 7th February

    There was something about Belladonna's smirk that morning that Autumn didn't like. Well, more so than usual; she didn't like Belladonna's smirk anyway.

    “Well, you saw the news last night, didn't you?” Lyra said, when Autumn told her.

    “I saw that United won 6-0,” Autumn replied.

    “Cech got injured in the second half and had to come off,” Lyra explained, “They don't know how long he'll be out for, but he'll miss the Champions League game against Galatasaray.”


    Thursday 8th February

    “... and in football,” the BBC radio announcer said, as Dinky returned to her room, drying herself off from her morning shower, “Mourinho has said that Petr Cech's injury is not as bad as first feared, and is merely a pulled hamstring. The goalkeeper, however, will miss the first leg of the Champions League tie against Galatasaray. On a related note, the Galatasaray captain has said that they have scores to settle with Mourinho over his comments…”

    “Like you can talk, mate.” came my voice from the kitchen. Dinky, remembering the brutal foul on Carvalho back in August which had put him out for the first half of the season, couldn't help but agree.

    A/N: “Psycho screaming” is a reference to the line in the 1998 version of “3 Lions”, which mentions Stuart Pearce's exuberant celebration after scoring in the penalty shootout against Spain in the Euro 96 quarter final, which would be England's only penalty shootout victory until the 2018 World Cup.

    Petr Cech did suffer a much worse injury in the 2006/07 season in real life, when Reading midfielder Stephen Hunt clattered into him in the first minute at the Madejski Stadium, kneeing him in the head and causing a depressed fracture of the skull. He returned four months later, but has worn a rugby-style skullcap ever since.
     
  10. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 26

    Passion for the Cup

    Monday 29th January

    One of the benefits of the FA Cup draw was that it took place at lunch time on a Monday. As such, Dinky and several of her classmates were crowded around Scootaloo’s battery-powered radio as it picked up BBC Radio Equestria’s coverage of the draw for the fifth round.

    “...and they will play Everton. Number fourteen...”

    “Fulham.”

    “...are at home to...number five.”

    “So, Fulham are at home to Chelsea.”

    “Next out...number nine.”

    “Number nine is Aston Villa…”


    Saturday 10th February

    “I’m sensing a pattern here,” I said, as the radio on my bedside table previewed the FA Cup games. “Third round, Watford, away, 5:30 kick off. Fourth round, Portsmouth, away, 5:30 kick off. And now, fifth round, Fulham, away, 5:30 kick off.”

    “Mhmm,” Dinky murmured, “It could be worse, we could be at Middlesbrough.”

    “That’s true, I suppose,” I conceded, “But Fulham are definitely going to be up for this. Knocking us out of the FA Cup will make their season-”

    “-and break mine.” Dinky added.

    “I’m sure we’ll beat them,” I said, putting a hand on her back. “We did so back in December.”

    “The second of our four live games this weekend is here at Craven Cottage,” Kick Off announced, “It’s a West London Derby in the FA Cup Fifth Round, with Fulham and Chelsea both looking to join Everton, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Plymouth Argyle in the last eight. The two sides last met in this competition in the semifinals in 2002, when Chelsea won 1-0 at Villa Park. The Blues have enjoyed something of a renaissance since the turn of the year, while Fulham are fourteenth in the league, but that counts for nothing in the cup…”

    “Nice to see the other set of fans turn up for this one,” I said, as we took our seats.

    Chelsea seemed to edge the opening stages, and imposed themselves as the game went on. Just after the half hour, Drogba, playing as a lone striker, got free of the back line and fired the ball past Niemi to give them the lead.

    “And Fulham’s resistance is broken at last,” Kick Off said, “It’s been coming, a superbly drilled shot by Drogba, great vision there by Robben to pick him out as well. It looks like it’s business as usual.”

    Fulham, however, didn’t take it lying down, and were spurred into action. Three minutes from the break, a corner was headed past Cudicini by Zat Knight, ensuring that the sides would go into half time level.

    “Well, Chelsea have dominated for much of this half,” Kick Off said, during the interval, “But that equaliser just before half time has certainly shaken things up. Fulham will now believe that they can possibly stun their local rivals and pull off a shock result…”

    The second half began in a much scrappier manner than the first, as Fulham looked to deny Chelsea space. Nine minutes into the half, Brian McBride passed to Davies, who sent the ball to Dempsey on the left. With Essien and Boulahrouz scrambling to get to him, Dempsey crossed the ball to Davies, who fortunately sent it well wide.

    Mourinho responded by bringing Gudjohnsen and Joe Cole on for Mikel and Wright-Phillips, and this nearly paid dividends almost instantly. Robben played in Gudjohnsen, whose shot from the edge of the area was tipped over the bar by Niemi.

    As the second half progressed, Chelsea continued to try and push forward. Fulham, however, were perfectly happy to sit back, hoping to potentially grab a goal on the break, and whilst Chelsea enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, Fulham packed out the defence to frustrate them.

    “We’re into the last five minutes here,” Kick Off said, “And it’s Lampard, passes to Joe Cole. Cole’s cut inside, he’s got past Queudrue, goes for goal...oh! What a save by Niemi, he had to be fully alert there, and it’s a corner to Chelsea. Lampard to take it. Up goes Boulahrouz...again, superb reflex save from Niemi!”

    As the ninety minutes drew to a close, Ferreira passed to Gudjohnsen, who set off on a run through the Fulham half. Gudjohnsen let loose a blistering shot from the edge of the area. However, once again, Niemi was equal to the shot, and parried it at full stretch. Rosenior got to the loose ball ahead of Drogba, and cleared it towards Dempsey. Joe Cole, however, intercepted it ahead of the American, and got down the right before looking to cross the ball to Drogba. Rosenior charged down the shot, blocking it, but the ball deflected towards Gudjohnsen, who got to it ahead of Pearce and Knight and let it bounce before sending a volley into the top corner of the net beyond the despairing dive of Niemi.

    “Oh, look at that!” Kick Off exclaimed, as Gudjohnsen and Drogba celebrated, with Rainbow Dash and Derpy almost mimicking their celebration move-for-move in the Traveller’s Rest, “Fulham’s resistance is broken in stoppage time, and once again Eidur Gudjohnsen is proving why he should never have left Chelsea in the first place! Frozen out at Barcelona, the Icelander cometh once again, and he has surely won this cup tie for Chelsea, just as Drogba did at Portsmouth in round four!”

    Fulham 1-2 Chelsea (Knight 42; Drogba 32, Gudjohnsen 90+1)

    “And there it is,” Kick Off said, as the final whistle sounded and Chris Coleman dejectedly shook hands with a sympathetic Mourinho, “Chelsea march into the quarter finals of the FA Cup. There is just over a week to go to the knockout stages of the Champions League, and they continue to fight on all fronts.”

    “Indeed,” Full Time added, “It looks like they’re firing on all cylinders at just the right time, too. Chasing the FA Cup, still mathematically fighting for the title, and ready to resume battling in the Champions League as well.”


    Sunday 11th February

    “That volley from Gudjohnsen looked even better on Match of the Day,” Dinky said, as the two of us had breakfast.

    “Well, it wouldn’t hurt to get a more straightforward win in the next round,” I said, as the football news came on.

    “After yesterday’s FA Cup win, John Terry has said that Chelsea’s players are in great spirits. Meanwhile, Galatasaray manager Eric Gerets has claimed that Chelsea play dirty…”

    “Not sure Carvalho would agree with that one.” I said.

    “Elsewhere, Wigan Athletic boss Paul Jewell has admitted that his side can’t kick what he calls a “losing habit”. His side suffered a shock FA Cup defeat yesterday against Plymouth, and are hovering above the relegation zone…”

    A/N: The draw for the FA Cup is broadcast after the previous rounds, and at the time, took place at lunchtime on the subsequent Monday. There is usually one side from the lower divisions, in this case Plymouth, that makes it into a later round.
     
  11. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 27

    Peak Performance

    Saturday 17th February

    Two months ago, everything had seemed lost. Chelsea had travelled up to Newcastle and fallen apart, losing 2-0, Fontana and Terry had clashed on the pitch at the final whistle, and I’d been told the following day that if Chelsea were to fall out of the top four, Derpy and Dinky would likely never see each other again. Fortunately, a backs-to-the-wall performance and a last-minute Drogba winner against Liverpool, along with Bolton and Tottenham slipping up, had put paid to that notion, as had a few pulled strings.

    Now, however, Chelsea were very much a changed side. Things could not be more different for the visit of Newcastle, who were eighth in the league and still looking to get into the top six.

    “If we win today,” I said to Dinky, who was taking full advantage of the half term break to enjoy a week of joint lie-ins, “and Arsenal slip up at Liverpool, then we’ll go up to second. And United don’t play until 5:30. If we gain ground on them just before our Champions League tie, that’ll be a huge morale boost.”


    One of Pinkie Pie’s duties as co-chair of Toon Army Equestria was attending the regular gatherings. These took place in the function room of the Coltsborough social club, a short walk from the station, whenever Newcastle were on TV or facing a top side.

    “Good to see you, Miss Pie,” Pinkie’s fellow co-chair said, as she entered.

    “You too, Mr Daybreak.” she responded. Typically for a Coltsborough native, he always addressed anyone who wasn’t family by their title, and insisted on being addressed in kind.

    “...and here’s Crouch for Liverpool,” came the voice of Kick Off from the TV, which was showing the early match, “and he’s turned Toure, looks for the shot, and that’s his hat-trick! What a game this is, it’s now Liverpool three, Arsenal three!”


    “How and why have we not taken the lead yet?” Rainbow Dash asked, as a rare Newcastle attack saw the ball go out for a goal kick.

    “It’ll come,” I said.

    “We’ve been absolutely brilliant these past few weeks,” Dinky added, “I can’t see this game going much longer without a goal.”

    Dinky’s words nearly came true almost immediately. Makelele found Drogba, who took the ball through the Newcastle half before playing a one-two with Gudjohnsen and sending a shot just wide.

    Five minutes afterwards, they did come true. Chelsea won a free kick in the centre circle and Lampard passed to Essien, who slipped the ball to Ferreira. Ferreira passed the ball into the area for Drogba, who turned and sent it past the outstretched hand of Shay Given to put Chelsea ahead.

    Just after half an hour, Lampard went on a run, only to be blocked off before he could get a shot away. Three minutes later, a Newcastle attack broke down, with Terry robbing Martins and passing to Makelele. Makelele found Drogba, who looked to play Lampard in with a searching through ball. Lampard got into the area, holding off Steven Taylor, before driving a shot past Given to double Chelsea’s lead.

    Three minutes later, however, Martins got the ball out wide and sent it into the area. Terry looked to intercept, but the ball took a deflection to Michael Owen, who fired the ball past the diving Cudicini into the opposite corner.

    In Coltsborough, a huge cheer went up from the assembled Newcastle fans as John Motson told Ray Stubbs about the goal on Final Score.

    “We might actually get something from this, you know,” Pinkie’s fellow co-chair told her, as many of the ponies there began to sing the popular Newcastle song Blaydon Races.

    Chelsea had other ideas, though, and in the first minute of stoppage time, a throw-in by Ashley Cole found Terry, who sent a long clearance to Kalou on the left. Kalou raced away down the wing before sending in a cross to Drogba, who held off Moore before firing the ball across Given to restore Chelsea’s two-goal advantage.

    The general consensus at half time was that Chelsea were not done yet. Indeed, they weren’t, as five minutes into the second half, Mikel passed to Drogba. Former Chelsea left-back Babayaro looked to intercept Drogba’s pass, but he couldn’t control the ball and Gudjohnsen was sent away down the right, crossing the ball into the area where Drogba met it with a volley which went in off the underside of the crossbar, completing his second hat-trick of the season.

    Newcastle looked down and out, but four minutes later Michael Owen intercepted a pass from Mikel and passed to Martins. Martins looked to go for goal from distance, but he skewed his shot well wide. Mourinho then took Drogba off, replacing him with Ballack.

    The match went quiet for about ten minutes, but midway through the second half, another Chelsea attack saw Ashley Cole play a long ball to Kalou. Kalou played in Gudjohnsen, who sent the ball just wide.

    Two minutes later, a pass from Owen was intercepted by Terry, who passed to Makelele. Makelele passed to Kalou, who played the ball through to Gudjohnsen. Gudjohnsen got to the edge of the area and sent a low shot past Given to further extend Chelsea’s lead. Four minutes later, he too was taken off, with Doyle replacing him as Mourinho looked towards the upcoming Champions League game.

    With just over ten minutes left, Doyle passed to Kalou, who played the ball into the area. Ballack raced in and hit a first time shot, which went into the net despite Given getting a hand to it.

    Chelsea 6-1 Newcastle United (Drogba 25, 45+1, 50, Lampard 34, Gudjohnsen 69, Ballack 79; Owen 37)

    “We’ve made life difficult for ourselves previously…” Mourinho said in the post-match interview.

    “That’s making life difficult for yourselves?” Pinkie’s co-chair exclaimed incredulously.


    “Six-one here, three-all at Anfield, five-two at Tottenham-Watford and four-two at Fulham-Sheffield United,” I said as we headed home, “Why don’t you watch Match of the Day with me tonight instead of tomorrow morning? Of course, there’s still United against Everton this evening…”

    “...played long by Patrice Evra,” Martin Tyler said, as the United-Everton game entered its final moments, “But it’s headed clear by Phil Neville. Ronaldo now, sends a cross into the area, Rooney with the header, saved by Richard Wright! And it’s hacked clear by Lescott, and that’s it! Everton have held on to a one-all draw here at Old Trafford, Leon Osman’s goal midway through the second half cancelling out Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener. Whisper it, but the title race isn’t over just yet!”

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 64pts
    2 Chelsea 55pts
    3 Arsenal 55pts
    4 Liverpool 51pts
    5 Bolton 46pts
    6 Tottenham 43pts

    18 West Ham 20pts
    19 Charlton 20pts
    20 Watford 16pts

    A/N: And Final Score shows up again due to the match being a 3pm kick off.

    The Blaydon Races is a popular Newcastle folk tune, dating from the nineteenth century, which has been adopted by Newcastle United fans.
     
  12. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 28

    A Feud Rekindled

    Tuesday 20th February

    “Jose Mourinho has called for calm heads ahead of the first leg of his side’s crucial Champions League tie against Galatasaray tonight,” Breaking News said, reading the Sports News on Radio Canterlot, “Meanwhile, UEFA have warned both clubs to be on their best behaviour following the war of words which has been escalating since October as a result of the injury Ricardo Carvalho sustained in the friendly in August. It is expected that referee Luis Medina Cantalejo will be in for a difficult night…”

    “You can say that again,” Autumn muttered.

    “Meanwhile, ahead of Liverpool’s match against Bayern Munich, Rafael Benitez has said that his side are fully confident…”

    “Dinky isn’t being taken to the second leg, is she?” Autumn asked Lyra a couple of minutes later.

    “No,” Lyra shook her head, “I spoke to Ms Hooves on Friday. Dinky’s guardian told her that he considers Turkey too much of a stretch, and off-limits due to the tensions between the two clubs.”

    “That’s a relief,” Autumn replied.

    “It’s Champions League night at Stamford Bridge,” Free Kick said, “And here on Sport 2 we have coverage of Chelsea’s game against Galatasaray. The one tie UEFA most likely didn’t want, after Carvalho’s injury caused significant damage to relations between the two sides back in August. Chelsea come into this match in superb form, having climbed to second in the Premier League, but the general feeling in the Galatasaray camp is that they want to put Mourinho’s money where his mouth is…”

    Just under 40 minutes in, things were looking exceptionally bad. Michael Essien, Claude Makelele and John Terry had all been booked in the opening 30 minutes, and that wasn’t even the worst of it. Eight minutes into the match, Karan had opened the scoring for Galatasaray, and just after half an hour, Hasan Sas had doubled their lead with a powerful shot which gave Cudicini no chance.

    Rainbow Dash and I looked at each other nervously, and I put what I hoped was a reassuring arm around Dinky as I murmured “Remember the Tottenham game” into her ear.

    “I have to say that preseason games are normally forgotten quickly, but not in this case,” Free Kick said, “That friendly in Glasgow where Carvalho was injured left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, as did the war of words…”

    Indeed, tempers were running high, and the referee had had to act quickly on several occasions to diffuse potential confrontations.

    “There’s half time,” Free Kick said, as the teams left the field, with quite a few players nearly squaring up to each other, “and you get the feeling that Mourinho has to give the biggest team talk in the history of all team talks. It’s only half way through the first leg, but they are two goals down, two away goals down, and as such they are surely on the brink of elimination.”

    It was a subdued mood in the home crowd during the interval. I cast my mind back to the previous season, when Barcelona had won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in the round of 16 1st leg.

    “So here come the teams,” Free Kick said, “And it looks like Makelele has been taken off, with Joe Cole coming on to replace him. A big, big second half coming up for Chelsea.”

    Chelsea started the second half a lot brighter, and the Galatasaray defence had to be alert to keep Drogba and Gudjohnsen at bay. However, eleven minutes into the half, a clearance by Kovac found Drogba, who passed out wide for Joe Cole. Cole passed to Gudjohnsen, who played in Ballack. Ballack's shot was saved by Mondragon, but he pounced on the rebound and made no mistake, before grabbing the ball and sprinting back to the centre spot.

    This seemed to ignite something in the Chelsea team, and suddenly Galatasaray were finding themselves struggling to cope. Just after the hour mark, Drogba was played in by Joe Cole, who was proving to be instrumental. The Ivorian looked to score the equaliser, but his shot was tipped wide by Mondragon.

    Mourinho then brought Robben on for Ferreira, looking to seize on the initiative. Indeed, Chelsea were now asking serious questions of Galatasaray, and the Turkish side were unable to find the right answers. With twenty minutes left, Michael Essien overlapped Joe Cole and took the ball down the right. He then crossed the ball to the far post, where Cole, who had cut inside, volleyed home to level the score.

    The atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge had moved up numerous notches, but everyone knew that Galatasaray would have the advantage if the match finished 2-2.

    As such, Chelsea continued to attack. With just under fifteen minutes remaining, Lampard sprayed the ball wide to Joe Cole, who once again set off down the right. This time, his cross found Drogba, who beat Alexandre Song in the air to head home at the near post.

    “What a second half this is turning out to be!” Free Kick exclaimed, as Chelsea celebrated. “In the space of 25 minutes, they have turned this match on its head!”

    Derpy, however, continued to watch intently. Rainbow Dash had told her about away goals and, as it stood, a 1-0 or 2-1 win for Galatasaray in the second leg would see them go through.

    With four minutes left, another Chelsea attack saw Lampard pass to Gudjohnsen. Gudjohnsen played the ball to Ballack, who had made a great run into the area and fired the ball across Mondragon to seal the win and secure some breathing space.

    Chelsea 4-2 Galatasaray (Ballack 56, 86, Joe Cole 70, Drogba 77; Karan 8, Hasan Sas 32)

    “And there's the final whistle!” Free Kick exclaimed, as Ballack sank to his knees in the centre circle with his arms held aloft, before being buried under a sea of blue shirts, “, “And Chelsea have put in a second half performance that can take its place as one of the great European comebacks-”

    “They’re gone,” his co-commentator, Offside, interjected. “The Galatasaray players, they’re gone.”

    Whilst there were scenes of jubilation among the home support - and indeed, in the Traveller’s Rest, where Derpy’s cheering was drowned out by the general pandemonium - the Galatasaray players were standing around looking absolutely stunned, wondering how they could have lost after taking such a commanding lead. Things subsequently threatened to turn ugly as the teams left the pitch, as a number of Galatasaray players attempted to square up to the home side, with a couple of them confronting Mourinho as he went onto the pitch to congratulate his players and applaud the fans. However, the home side were having none of it, having done their talking on the pitch.

    Wednesday 21st February

    “Sport news now,” Breaking News said, as Autumn began her lunch, “And in football, Mourinho has said that the second half of last night’s match was the best 45 minutes he’s ever seen as a manager. Meanwhile, Bayern manager Ottmar Hitzfeld has admitted that his side’s failure to score an away goal at Anfield could prove costly; Bayern were beaten 2-0 by Liverpool last night. Elsewhere, Manchester United and Arsenal are both in action tonight, as Arsenal travel to the Bernabeu whilst United face AS Roma…”

    “It’s called knocking, you know. You should try it sometime.” Autumn said, as Belladonna barged into her office.

    “Less attitude, more action,” Belladonna snapped. “I’m concerned about Berry Punch. I don’t think that her daughter should be around so much alcohol…”

    “Berry Punch, the landlady of the Traveller’s Rest?” Lyra asked, when Autumn told her an hour later.

    “That would explain the alcohol comment,” Autumn said, “But this has come out of the blue. No initial investigation, not even any report which would lead to an investigation. And she sounded almost vindictive when she told me.”

    “Then we’ll conduct our own investigation,” Lyra responded. “How does lunch at the Traveller’s Rest sound tomorrow?”

    A/N: Free Kick is another commentator, based on Clive Tyldesley. He’s covering this match because Kick Off and Full Time were covering the match at Anfield on Sport 1.

    In two-legged European ties, if it finishes level on aggregate, the first tiebreaker is which side scored more goals away from home.

    Seniority cuts no ice with Belladonna; those who are beneath her are beneath her.
     
  13. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 29

    A Case of Deja Vu

    Thursday 22nd February

    “I’m glad you’re coming with me, to be honest,” Autumn said, as she and Lyra disembarked from the train at Ponyville station, “I can’t help but feel I’m not particularly welcome here after what happened in June.”

    “I’m sure that there won’t be any trouble,” Lyra said, “It might have been awkward if you ran into Dinky, but it’s half term, so she'll be in London. Anyway, I know my way around here.”

    “It still feels off, disappearing off to Ponyville for much of the day.”

    “Technically, we’re on duty,” Lyra replied, “We’re conducting an investigation, it just so happens that lunch time falls in the middle of it, and it also means we’re away from her for a while.”

    “And what can I do for you?” Berry asked, as the two of them entered the Traveller’s Rest.

    “Well, we might as well get the, er, unpleasantries over with first,” Autumn said.

    “Unpleasantries?” Berry asked.

    “Belladonna said that she was ‘concerned’ about the fact that your daughter lives surrounded by alcohol. I have no idea how she suddenly become concerned about the fact that a pub would serve alcohol, but, and I know this sounds like the most stupid question ever, do you store supplies in your daughter’s bedroom?”

    “What? That’s ridiculous. Ruby and I sleep upstairs, and all the alcohol is stored in the cellar, to which I have the key. And to preempt another of her ‘concerns’, while I like to have the odd drink, I’m not a heavy drinker - why would someone running a pub drink their profits?”

    “In that case,” Lyra said, “What caused Belladonna to get on your case?”

    “I think I have a rough idea…” Berry replied.


    Monday 18th December

    “...then it’ll be time to blow the final whistle on this silly agreement.”

    Belladonna smirked as she turned around and walked away, registering the devastated look on Derpy’s face. Of course Chelsea weren’t going to win the treble; all she was doing was saving her from heartache further down the line.

    According to her timetable, there was time for a drink before the next train to Canterlot. She remembered passing a pub on the way from the station, and decided to stop there. She arrived at the pub, entered it, and walked up to the bar.

    “Good afternoon. I'll have-” she began, but Berry cut her off.

    “Get out of my pub,” she said, forcefully.

    “What?” Belladonna asked, taken aback.

    “You heard me, out! And stay out; You're barred for life! And if you don't vacate these premises in the next five seconds I'm calling the constabulary!”

    Thursday 22nd February

    “So Belladonna wanted Ruby taken away because she got banned from here?” Autumn said, as their food arrived, “That's wrong on just about every level imaginable.”

    “We can't prove that, though,” Lyra replied, “Which is most likely why she waited two months before making her move. If it works and Ruby ends up being taken away, then she gets her revenge, and if, as thankfully in this case, it doesn't, then nopony is going to be able to prove it. We need solid evidence, and we don't have any. It would just be written off as a coincidence.”

    “In the same way I can't prove that she's tampering with the visitation forms,” Autumn said, looking up, as if for guidance, at the TV, which was showing a replay of David Beckham's free kick against Arsenal from the previous evening.


    Saturday 24th February

    “...ahead of this evening’s London Derby, several Tottenham players have said that they want revenge, not just for the match in October, but also an apparent dispute between the two sides which took place in the tunnel after said match.”

    “That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” I said, “Maybe they’re so desperate to beat us in the league that they’re making stuff up now. Then again, we both saw how Galatasaray reacted after the second half on Tuesday.”

    “But surely they’ll be fresher? After all, they didn’t play in midweek...” Dinky said tentatively.

    “Maybe, but that comeback against Galatasaray will be a huge boost. Not only that, but we call their ground ‘Three Point Lane’ for a reason.”


    “A ding-dong derby here at White Hart Lane this evening,” Kick Off announced, “With Tottenham hosting Chelsea. The Blues come into this match on a massive high after their win over Galatasaray in midweek, but there was no midweek game for Tottenham, as they received a bye from UEFA for their UEFA Cup Round of 32 tie against Feyenoord. Chelsea are without Michael Essien, who picked up a knock, as well as Carvalho and Cech who are still not fully fit. Tottenham, meanwhile, know that a win will see them climb to sixth in the table, after Portsmouth’s 0-0 draw against Aston Villa...”

    At half time, the score stood at one goal each. The deadlock had been broken after 37 minutes, when Robbie Keane had fed in Aaron Lennon, the England winger firing the ball past Cech to give Tottenham the lead. Chelsea’s response had been nearly instantaneous, with Drogba sending a piledriver past Robinson from 20 yards four minutes later.

    The second half, however, was a lot more tentative, and it took nearly half an hour for the first real chance to emerge, as Drogba ran onto a loose ball and sent his shot over the bar. Four minutes later, Keane received the ball from Jenas 35 yards out and tried to emulate Drogba at Everton, but his shot was comfortably caught by Cudicini.

    Mourinho brought Joe Cole and Gudjohnsen on, and with eight minutes to go, this paid dividends. Chelsea won possession in the centre circle and Joe Cole played a one-two with Gudjohnsen, before getting past Ledley King and hitting a low shot from the edge of the area into the bottom corner of the net beyond the despairing dive of Robinson.

    “...and Joe Cole gets on the scoresheet again!” Kick Off exclaimed, “Eight minutes left, and once again Joe Cole comes off the bench to score a vital goal!”

    There was still some fight left in the home side, however, and with time nearly up, they won a corner. Jenas tried to whip the ball into the area, but Kovac intercepted and blasted it upfield, with the match ending a minute later.

    Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Chelsea (Lennon 37; Drogba 41, Joe Cole 82)

    “Well, Tottenham miss out on the chance to go back up to sixth,” Big Match said, as he analysed the match with Kick Off and Full Time afterwards, “But Chelsea really seem to be hitting form at just the right time. Can either of you see them retaining their title?”

    “It’s unlikely,” Kick Off replied, “But if United were to slip up, then I can easily see Chelsea pouncing and increasing the pressure.”

    “Liverpool and United aside, we’ve got a fairly straightforward run-in,” I said, as the two of us boarded the train at Hackney Downs to take us back to West Brompton. “And if United run out of steam and we keep winning...well, like I said, bigger leads have been overhauled in the past.”

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 67pts
    2 Chelsea 58pts
    3 Arsenal 58pts
    4 Liverpool 54pts
    5 Bolton 46pts
    6 Everton 44pts

    18 Charlton 21pts
    19 West Ham 20pts
    20 Watford 19pts

    A/N: Tottenham really did receive a bye through the UEFA Cup Round of 32 that season, as Feyenoord were disqualified after a fan threw a glass of beer at a Blackburn player during a group game. “Three Point Lane” was the Chelsea fans’ nickname for Tottenham’s ground for many years, as for a time, Chelsea nearly always took three points from there.
     
  14. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 30

    Keeping Pace

    Monday 26th February

    “So how do we go about this?” Autumn asked, as she and Lyra discussed the previous Thursday in her office. “If we march into Belladonna's office and say that Ruby Pinch is in no danger, she'll suspect something-”

    “How ironic.” Lyra snorted.

    “-and she's going to want answers at some point.”

    “I've got it,” Lyra said after a moment, “We wait until next week, preferably Thursday or Friday, then we tell her that there's no risk. And if we both sign the report, it'll strengthen our case and weaken hers.”

    “Meanwhile, I gave Berry my work number,” Autumn said, “If anypony else here tries anything, she's to ring me at once.”

    “That sounds like a plan,” Lyra said, “Now, let's see what's on the radio.”

    “... and following Saturday's win over Tottenham, Mourinho has revealed that confidence in the Chelsea camp is extremely high…”

    “Did you see the match in Holland yesterday?” Lyra asked.

    “You’re the one who follows the European leagues, not me. What happened?”

    “AZ Alkmaar went to PSV and won 3-2.”

    “... with sunny intervals through the week. And now, it's time for The Lunch Hour, and we begin with a regular favourite from Britain, it’s Club Foot by Kasabian…”


    Saturday 3rd March

    Chelsea (2nd) vs Portsmouth (7th)

    “I really owe you after the Galatasaray game,” I said to Rainbow Dash, as the two of us joined her.

    “Why, what happened?” Dinky asked.

    “You fell asleep just after the players left the pitch,” I replied, “All the excitement of the second half wore you out. Rainbow Dash carried you back to the flat.”

    “Hey, it was nothing,” Rainbow Dash replied, “After that comeback, I could have carried anything! Although, if you did have something in mind…”

    “Well, it’s El Clasico next Saturday evening,” I said, “Barcelona versus Real Madrid. How would you like to come back to the flat and watch it with the two of us after the FA Cup game?”

    “Wait. El Clasico? As in THE El Clasico?”

    “The very same.”

    “Are you kidding? I’ve always wanted to watch El Clasico!”


    “You know, I think that it was a good idea of yours to go out this afternoon,” Autumn said to her husband as the two of them walked down Canterlot High Street. “A walk in the park followed by a drink at a cafe is the perfect thing to take my mind off what’s been happening at work lately.”

    As the two of them entered the cafe and sat down, they realised that the radio was broadcasting from Stamford Bridge as the match approached the hour mark.

    “...still Chelsea nil, Portsmouth one, but Chelsea continue to dominate, they should be at least two goals up, as they come forward again…”


    For all Chelsea’s dominance, it was Portsmouth, chasing a UEFA Cup place, who had the lead. Richard Hughes had latched onto a pass from former Newcastle forward Lomana LuaLua in the twelfth minute, completely wrong-footing Cudicini to give the visitors the lead.

    Chelsea had responded, and had come agonisingly close on numerous occasions, but David James, sensing that a place in the England squad was up for grabs, had put in a superb performance in goal, saving from Gudjohnsen, Lampard and Ballack.

    As the match reached the hour mark, Chelsea’s latest attack saw Ballack race into the area, only to be brought down by Linvoy Primus. Mark Clattenburg promptly pointed to the spot.


    “Well, this is a turning point in the match,” came the voice from the radio, “Chelsea have been on top all game, and if this goes in, it will surely provide the impetus for them to go on an win.”


    Even Rainbow Dash fell silent as Frank Lampard placed the ball on the spot. He took two steps back, ran up...and saw his shot smack against the crossbar before being hacked clear by the Portsmouth defence.

    “I don’t believe this!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, as a deep groan emanated from virtually the entire stadium. I took another look down the pitch to the other end, where the same yellow earth pony from Fratton Park had leapt about a foot in the air. I then mentally pictured the league table. If United were to go twelve points clear...

    Chelsea continued to attack, but it seemed that time was against them. However, with twenty minutes to go, Robben took the ball down the right and sent a cross into the area for Gudjohnsen. The Icelander met it with a diving header, and this time David James had no answer.


    “What a header by Gudjohnsen!” exclaimed the commentator on the radio, “David James is finally beaten, and after the massive blow of that missed penalty, Chelsea are level with twenty minutes left!”


    As the fans celebrated, Mourinho took Gudjohnsen off, bringing on a fresh Drogba to inject some energy into Chelsea’s attack. Drogba proceeded to torment the Portsmouth back line, giving them numerous problems and coming agonisingly close as the match entered its last five minutes.

    With three minutes to go, Lampard looked to turn provider, feeding in Drogba. Drogba, forced wide, went for goal, but his shot struck the post and went out.

    The match entered stoppage time, and it was looking increasingly likely that Chelsea were going to slip up and lose ground in the title race. As the fourth official finished showing the numbers board, Drogba once again launched a shot at goal. David James saved, but he couldn’t hold on, and Michael Ballack pounced on the rebound to finally break Portsmouth’s resistance.

    The exuberant celebrations in the Matthew Harding end were only increased by the stadium announcer’s next announcement.

    “Substitution for Chelsea. Leaving the field is number five, Michael Essien. Replacing him, and making his first appearance of the season, number six, Ricardo Carvalho!”

    Carvalho was cheered onto the pitch, after spending nearly seven months out injured, as Mourinho looked to ensure that Ballack’s goal was the final one of the match.

    It wasn’t.

    As the match entered the third minute of stoppage time, a long ball to Drogba was intercepted by Primus. The Portsmouth man spent too much time on the ball, however, and Drogba robbed him before getting into the area and finally beating David James with a shot which crashed in off the crossbar.

    “And there’s the final whistle!” came the voice from the radio, “What an extraordinary last three minutes here at Stamford Bridge, and Chelsea, with two late strikes, pick up another three vital points, their fifth win in a row, to keep pace with Manchester United…”

    Autumn was certain that she had noticed her boss storming out of the cafe.

    Chelsea 3-1 Portsmouth (Gudjohnsen 70, Ballack 90+1, Drogba 90+3, Lampard m/pen 61; Hughes 12)

    “Didn’t Manchester United win the treble with two stoppage time goals?” Dinky asked, as the three of us left the ground, as news filtered through that the rest of the top four had all won.

    “Well, yes,” I replied, “Although those were against Bayern Munich, not Portsmouth. Still, imagine being on the United bench and thinking that you’re about to widen the gap on us and then three minutes later you find out that we got two in stoppage time to get another win.”

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 70pts
    2 Chelsea 61pts
    3 Arsenal 61pts
    4 Liverpool 57pts
    5 Bolton 49pts
    6 Everton 47pts

    18 Charlton 24pts
    19 Watford 20pts
    20 West Ham 20pts

    A/N: El Clasico is the name for any match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, although the term officially refers to games in La Liga. It is considered the biggest game in club football other than the Champions League Final. The one at the Nou Camp in the 2006/07 season did take place a week after the match in this chapter.
     
  15. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 31

    Into the Lion's’ Den

    Welcome to Hell. - Galatasaray fans’ banner which greeted Manchester United players, 1993

    Wednesday 7th March

    “Ahead of Chelsea's crunch Champions League second leg match in Istanbul tonight, Mourinho has admitted that his side are in for a tough game,” Breaking News said, as Autumn continued writing her report from her and Lyra's recent visit to Ponyville, “As it stands, Chelsea need to avoid losing by two or more goals if they are to join Manchester United in the last eight. The home fans, meanwhile, have promised a hot reception for the Blues…”

    “What do you mean, you never received it?” Autumn asked incredulously, as she rang the visitation office, “Fine - I'll deliver another one, myself, tomorrow!”

    “Elsewhere, Liverpool are in prime position to qualify for the quarter finals tonight; they take a 2-0 lead back to the Allianz Arena…”


    “Nervous?” I asked Dinky, who was breathing heavily as the pundits gave their pre-match speculation.

    She nodded.

    “Perfectly normal to feel nervous before a game such as this,” I said. “After all, so am I.”



    “Well, this is where we find out what Chelsea are made of,” Kick Off announced, as the two teams walked onto the pitch. “A hostile crowd, two away goals conceded in the first leg but, crucially, they have a two goal lead from the first leg as well.”

    “Indeed,” Full Time added, as the teams lined up for the Champions League anthem, “They know that to stand any chance tonight, Galatasaray have to attack. In this case, the return of Carvalho is a huge boost.”

    Galatasaray looked to attack from the beginning, and five minutes into the match, Ballack conceded a free kick as he impeded Karan. The Galatasaray man squared up to Ballack, but the Portuguese referee, Olegario Benquerenca, quickly diffused the confrontation. The free kick itself was a waste, going harmlessly wide after Karan went for goal from 40 yards.

    Chelsea went on the attack five minutes later, with Robben getting down the right before seeing a cross caught by Mondragon.

    Most of the action was in midfield, the next chance not coming until the 25th minute. Arda Turan launched a long ball into the area, which Ashley Cole headed clear.

    Just after the half hour mark, John Terry was fouled by Karan in the centre circle. Lampard passed the free kick to Ferreira, who fed the ball to Makelele. Carvalho then took over, getting into the area before playing a short pass to Drogba. Drogba's shot was parried by Mondragon, as was the rebound before Song cleared.

    Chelsea's back four seemed to be spurred on by the return of Carvalho, and as the half entered the closing stages, a long ball by Karan was cleared by John Terry. As the half entered stoppage time, Akman passed to Karan, who held off Ashley Cole and got into the area before sending a tame shot harmlessly wide, before another speculative ball into the box from Karan was headed clear by Ashley Cole.

    Tempers were still running high at half time, with several Galatasaray players trying to square up to their Chelsea counterparts as the teams left the pitch.

    “This has been a solid defensive display from Chelsea so far,” Kick Off said, as, in the Traveller's Rest, even Rainbow Dash looked tense.

    “Even so, I can't help but feel that there's a red card coming,” said Full Time, “There's still a lot of bad blood between the two sides.”

    Full Time’s words would prove prophetic less than ten minutes into the second half. The half started scrappily, with a half chance for each side, but then a pass from Ballack found Drogba, who went on a run into the Galatasaray half. As the Ivorian approached the area, he was brought down from behind by Song. Ballack and Carvalho rushed over, clamouring for a card, but Benquerenca shooed them away...before calling Song over and giving him his marching orders. Lampard went for goal from the free kick, and only a smart save from Mondragon prevented Chelsea from going ahead. The resulting corner was only cleared as far as Ashley Cole, whose shot went wide.

    As the match went on, Galatasaray realised that they were running out of time. With 25 minutes left, a cross from the left found nobody, with Cole booting it into touch. The resulting throw in threatened to cause trouble, but it was scrambled away by Carvalho.

    “Still goalless, as Chelsea look to break, and the news coming from the Allianz Arena is that Claudio Pizarro has given Bayern a 1-0 lead over Liverpool with fifteen minutes left…”

    With just over ten minutes left, a shot by Ashley Cole was parried by Mondragon, with Drogba sending the follow up wide.

    “Almost there…” I muttered, as the match entered the last five minutes and Dinky huddled up next to me.

    With a minute remaining, Galatasaray attempted to launch a desperate attack down the left. The attack, however, was thwarted by Boulahrouz, who cleared the ball deep into the Galatasaray half.

    “We’re through, that's it,” I said, giving Dinky's shoulder (for want of a better term) a reassuring rub.

    Three minutes later, Chelsea were, and it was.

    Galatasaray 0-0 Chelsea (Song s/o 54) Chelsea win 4-2 on aggregate

    “And the final whistle goes, and Chelsea have done what was required of them,” Kick Off said, “They have emerged unscathed from the lion's den to go through to the quarter finals. Carvalho did superbly tonight in his first start since that friendly in August, and that is what is called poetic justice!”

    In the Traveller’s Rest, Rainbow Dash was back to her usual self, as two Galatasaray players continued to remonstrate with the referee over Song’s red card.

    “So who can we get in the quarter final?” Dinky asked as I put her to bed.

    “Well, it's an open draw at this stage,” I said, “So it'll be one of” - I counted on my fingers - “Real Madrid, Man Utd, AC Milan, Lyon, Valencia, Barcelona or Liverpool.”


    Thursday 8th March

    “So what did you find?” Belladonna asked, as Autumn and Lyra entered her office.

    “We found that there is no risk to Ruby Pinch and, as such, the matter is closed.” Autumn said, placing the report on Belladonna’s desk. “Now if you excuse us, we have work to do.”


    “Here it is,” Autumn said, as she handed the form to a member of the visitation team, “Now I know you’re about to go for a team lunch at The Two Princesses, but please, sort this out as soon as possible because I'll then need to send it to London, which means sending it through the two embassies.”

    Once again, however, she didn’t notice Belladonna hovering just out of sight, having eavesdropped on the entire conversation.
     
  16. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 32

    Eyes on the Prize

    “You can't praise a referee” - Sir Alex Ferguson

    Monday 12th February

    Dinky and several of her classmates were once again crowded around Scootaloo's battery-powered radio as the draw for the sixth round of the FA Cup was made.

    “...will play Aston Villa. Number six.”

    “Number six is Chelsea.”

    “And they are at home to…”

    “Please be Plymouth…” Dinky thought.

    “Number four.”

    “Number four is Arsenal. Number five.”

    “Number five is Everton.”

    And they will play...number two.”

    “Number two is Plymouth Argyle…”


    Saturday 10th March

    “...despite their elimination from the Champions League by Real Madrid in midweek, Arsene Wenger has said that his side are still eyeing the double…”

    “Wishful thinking,” I retorted, “We're unbeaten against that lot in the last nine matches against them. We beat them in November with three key players missing and turned them over in their own backyard just over a month ago.”

    “And what about the fourth missing player?” Dinky asked, as she poured herself a cup of tea.

    “Fontana? Well, he’s solely looking to put himself in the shop window so that a Champions League side like Bayern or Inter comes calling in the summer, but if he can’t score against a League One side tomorrow then there’s little hope of that.”


    “Today’s quarter final of the FA Cup is perhaps the most eagerly-anticipated,” Kick Off said, “Chelsea versus Arsenal, with both sides having eyes on a possible double. They both sit nine points behind Manchester United in the title race, but while Arsenal are out of the Champions League, Chelsea marched on into the quarter finals with that rearguard display in Istanbul. Petr Cech is still not fully fit, so Carlo Cudicini keeps his place in goal...”

    The match started well for Chelsea, and inside the first ten minutes, Drogba did what he did best with a shot which beat Lehmann for sheer power. But then, in the twentieth minute, came a potential turning point.

    “Here’s Fabregas,” Kick Off said, “And he’s looking to create something, now Adebayor, shrugged off the ball by Lampard, but the referee’s blown for a foul...hang on, he’s reaching for a card, and it’s red! I don’t believe this! Well, Mike Riley is saying that Lampard was the last man, but there were at least two defenders covering, Mourinho is absolutely livid!”

    “Well, the important thing is that Chelsea keep their heads,” Full Time said, “They’re a goal to the good, if they keep their eyes on the prize they should see it through.”

    The free kick went harmlessly wide, and Mourinho sacrificed Gudjohnsen for Makelele, reverting to a flat midfield. It was, however, Chelsea who had the next chance. Ballack intercepted a pass from Eboue to Gilberto, before finding Drogba, who went on a run through the Arsenal area, holding off Eboue and Toure, before getting into the area and seeing his shot cannon back off the post, with Lehman gratefully gathering the ball.

    Ten minutes later, a cross by Essien was cleared by Eboue. Ferreira beat Hleb in the air and crossed the ball to Drogba, who couldn’t strike it cleanly and volleyed it wide.

    Arsenal looked to get back into the game as the half drew to a close, with a ball into the box being cleared. Three minutes from the break, Ljungberg passed to Eboue, who hit the ball first time into the area. Henry beat Carvalho in the air, but his header was straight at Cudicini. Two minutes later, a cross from Hleb was cleared by Ashley Cole.

    Arsenal started the second half brighter, and five minutes in, a cross from Ljungberg was headed clear by Carvalho. The clearance was intercepted by Gilberto, who looked to go for goal and sent the shot considerably wide.

    Four minutes later, Makelele intercepted a pass and sent the ball to Ballack. Ballack slipped it to Essien, who got down the right, getting past Gallas before sending in a cross. Drogba beat Eboue to the ball and connected with a volley, only to hit the post for the second time in the match.

    With just under twenty minutes left, Drogba was caught offside, before Mourinho brought Joe Cole on for Ferreira and moved Essien to right back.

    As the match entered the final ten minutes, Robben intercepted the ball ahead of Ljungberg and and passed to Drogba. Drogba played a give-and-go with Joe Cole before getting into the area and seeing a shot tipped wide by Lehmann, with Robben heading Ballack’s corner wide. Chelsea won another corner three minutes later, which was cleared.

    With two minutes left, Henry fed the ball to Adebayor, who sent Ljungberg down the right. Ljungberg sent a cross into the area, which Carvalho was able to clear ahead of Henry. That was Arsenal’s last attack, and Chelsea advanced into the FA Cup semi finals.

    Chelsea 1-0 Arsenal (Drogba 9, Lampard s/o 20)


    “Right, I’d say we’ve got 40 minutes before El Clasico starts,” I said, looking at my watch, as the three of us left the stadium. “So I say we make a detour via the supermarket opposite the flat and get some supplies for the game.”

    El Clasico did not disappoint. Early in the match, a cross from Higuain was deflected to Van Nistelrooy, and the former Man Utd player let fly from just outside the box to give Real Madrid the lead. Shortly afterwards, a pass from Samuel Eto’o into the area found Messi, who sent a low shot into the bottom corner to level the score.

    Real Madrid went straight to the other end, and were awarded a penalty when Guti was fouled in the area by Oleguer, who received a yellow card. Van Nistelrooy made no mistake, sending Valdes the wrong way to restore Real’s lead. Barcelona came back, and Ronaldinho had a shot saved by Casillas before Messi smashed the rebound into the roof of the net.

    On the stroke of half time, Barcelona were reduced to ten men when Oleguer received a second yellow card. Real Madrid looked to take full advantage, and Sergio Ramos restored their lead with a header in the second half.

    That looked to be that, but there was still one last twist. In stoppage time, Ronaldinho found Messi, who beat two Real Madrid players before firing a shot across Casillas to have the final word.

    “That...was...awesome!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. I couldn’t help but agree.


    Monday 12th March

    “So, we can now go live to the draw for the quarter finals of the Champions League.”

    The UEFA Executive pulled out the first plastic football and unscrewed it.

    “Chelsea, will play...Liverpool.”

    “Them again…” I muttered, “This is the third season in a row we’ve faced them.”

    “Lyon, will play...Barcelona.”

    “Liverpool and then Barcelona? All we need now is Monaco and we’d have the full set.”

    “AC Milan, will play...Valencia.”

    “Wait, that just leaves-” I muttered. Dinky seemed to have caught on as well.

    “Real Madrid, will play Manchester United.”


    Tuesday 13th March

    “The international break looms,” Kick Off announced, “But before it arrives, we can bring you live coverage of tonight’s West London Derby at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are in amazing form at the moment as they look to make up for the first half of the season, and Mourinho has said that he is relishing the battle ahead as his side are drawn to face Liverpool in the Champions League yet again...”


    “Think it’s over, Ferguson? Think again!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, as we left the stadium.

    Chelsea had come out on top in the West London Derby, having controlled the game from start to finish. Twelve minutes into the match, Arjen Robben had cut inside from a pass by Drogba and given Chelsea the lead.

    The visitors had responded in the 27th minute through Moritz Volz, but three minutes later Chelsea had restored their lead, Drogba heading home from Robben’s cross.

    Chelsea then proceeded to dominate the second half, and seven minutes from the end, Drogba’s effort was parried by Niemi and Gudjohnsen pounced on the rebound.

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 73pts
    2 Chelsea 64pts
    3 Arsenal 64pts
    4 Liverpool 58pts
    5 Bolton 49pts
    6 Everton 48pts

    18 Charlton 27pts
    19 West Ham 23pts
    20 Watford 20pts

    A/N: The El Clasico depicted in this chapter is in fact the very same El Clasico which took place at the Nou Camp on 10th March 2007.
    “All we need now is Monaco and we’d have the full set” Dinky’s guardian is referring to Chelsea’s three previous Champions League conquerors, Barcelona (2005/06 and 1999/00), Liverpool (2004/05) and Monaco (2003/04).
     
  17. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 33

    A Time to Bloom

    Saturday 17th March

    In a way, it was probably a good thing that Chelsea were away to Liverpool the following day, I thought, as I looked out of the window. Tomorrow was Mother’s Day - a major sore point, given the circumstances of what had happened in June.

    It was, however, a very pleasant day; definitely a day worth doing something. Something that it had been too cold to do since the end of September.

    “Dinky, do you want to go for ice cream?”

    “On my way!”


    “Table for four, please. Somewhere quiet.” Twilight said, as she, Rainbow Dash, Derpy and Lyra entered Sugarcube corner.

    “Thank you for coming at such short notice,” Twilight said to Lyra, as the four of them sat down and ordered a pot of tea, “Given how difficult this weekend is going to be.”


    “I know I’ve said this every time we’ve been here, but whoever decided to open up a football-themed ice cream parlour is a genius,” I said, as the two of us enjoyed our “Sixty-sixes”.

    “...Lita, to give Reading a two-nil lead against Everton at The Madejski,” came the voice from a nearby radio, “Still goalless, meanwhile, between Watford and Manchester United at Vicarage Road…”

    “Hang on,” I said. “Excuse me,” I called to the person behind the counter, “What did he just say the United score was?”

    “Nil-nil.”

    “So if it stays like that - and remember, they nicked a point off us in January,” I said to Dinky, “And we beat Liverpool tomorrow…”

    Dinky’s eyes widened.


    “...has finished Blackburn one, Newcastle two.” the voice on the radio in Sugarcube Corner announced. “And we are getting news now from Vicarage Road, and the news is that Watford have held Manchester United to a nil-nil draw, which will have huge implications at both ends of the table…”

    “Oh, get in there!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, as she pulled Derpy into a hug. “This is where we start to reel them in!”


    Sunday 18th March

    Away from all the hustle and bustle of the main bar, four ponies sat in a quiet area of the Traveller’s Rest, as the build up to the game began.

    “An intriguing contest for us today,” Kick Off announced, “Liverpool versus Chelsea, with both sides due to meet in the Champions League in just over a week. Liverpool came to Stamford Bridge when the Blues were in turmoil, but things could not be more different today. Chelsea are on a run of six straight victories, and Liverpool have struggled as of late…”

    “We’ve won on our last three league visits here,” I said, as the two of us took our seats, “I can’t see anything other than a fourth today, the way we’ve been playing.”

    “This is a big, big match in the title race,” Kick Off said, as the teams walked onto the pitch, “Eight games of the Premier League season left, and with Manchester United being held to that shock draw at Watford yesterday, if ever there was a time for Chelsea to bloom, it is now!”

    Liverpool edged the tentative opening stages, with a long ball from Xabi Alonso being headed clear by Terry and another evading everyone.

    Just after the fifteen minute mark, however, Chelsea went on the attack. A shot from Gudjohnsen struck the post, and Steve Finnan then lost the ball to Lampard. Gudjohnsen pounced on the loose ball out wide and looked to cross. His cross was cleared by Carragher the clearance only got to Michael Ballack, who chested the ball down, let it bounce, and sent a shot past Reina and into the Liverpool net.

    Things nearly got even better five minutes later. Gudjohnsen passed the ball to Drogba, whose shot was saved by Reina.

    On the half hour, Alonso held Lampard off and passed to Gonzalez. Gonzalez held Ballack off and got into the area, but despite having Kuyt and Bellamy as options, looked to shoot, sending the ball straight at Cech.

    This would come back to haunt Liverpool two minutes later. Wright-Phillips’ pass found Ballack, who played the ball on to Drogba. Drogba ran at Sami Hyypia before passing to Gudjohnsen, who sent a bending shot past Reina to double Chelsea’s lead.

    Liverpool tried to drag themselves back into the game, and four minutes until half time, John Arne Riise sent a cross into the area, which was headed clear by Ferreira.

    Chelsea were looking to send a clear message to Old Trafford, and five minutes into the second half Lampard played a one-two with Ballack before having a shot saved by Reina.

    Two minutes later, Ballack was pulled back by Hyypia. Rob Styles diffused the situation before it could escalate into handbags, and Lampard sent the free kick over the wall and into the net.

    Chelsea were now rampant, and just after the hour mark, a cross by Ashley Cole was cleared into touch.

    As the second half reached the halfway point, Ballack passed to Makelele, who played the ball on to Lampard. Lampard played the ball through Carragher’s legs to Gudjohnsen, who passed to Wright-Phillips. Wright-Phillips, from the edge of the box, sent the ball into the roof of the net.

    Dinky now realised as to why the Chelsea fanzine added a trademark symbol after the phrase “Famous Anfield Atmosphere”, as the home support had fallen virtually silent. It was only until the last five minutes that Liverpool threatened, with shots by Kuyt and Riise being deflected behind.

    Liverpool 0-4 Chelsea (Ballack 16, Gudjohnsen 32, Lampard 52, Wright-Phillips 68)

    “The final whistle puts the hosts out of their misery, and what remained of Liverpool’s title bid is surely all over now,” Kick Off said, as Rainbow Dash was glomped by Derpy in the Traveller’s Rest, “But what an emphatic performance from the visitors this was! In this dress rehearsal for the Champions League quarter final, Chelsea were simply word-perfect!”

    As the visiting supporters made their way back to Lime Street station, Dinky looked up at the sky.

    “That’s for you, Mommy,” she whispered, wiping a tear from her eye.


    Saturday 31st March

    The match at home to Middlesbrough was entering its closing stages, and the result was long beyond doubt. With seventeen minutes gone, Gudjohnsen had converted a pass from Robben to open the scoring for Chelsea, before Lampard had doubled the lead with just over twenty minutes to go.

    With Chelsea evidently conserving their energy for the upcoming Champions League tie, it looked as though the last five minutes would pass without incident. But as stoppage time loomed, a commotion seemed to break out from various parts of the ground.

    “What’s going on?” I asked. Many other supporters seemed to be asking the same thing.

    “It’s United!”

    “What about United?”

    “Who’s got a radio?”

    “Turn it up, turn it up!”

    The supporter next to Rainbow Dash did have a radio, and he duly obliged.

    “-smouth one, Manchester United one, Matt Taylor has cancelled out John O’Shea’s opener! A huge moment in the title race, Chelsea still leading Middlesbrough by two goals to nil as well!”

    A huge roar went up from the home supporters. Three minutes later, the final whistle blew at Stamford Bridge, followed in due course by the one at Fratton Park.

    Chelsea 2-0 Middlesbrough (Gudjohnsen 17, Lampard 69)

    Portsmouth 1-1 Man Utd (Taylor 89; O’Shea 30)


    At the start of March, Manchester United had led the table by nine points. As March turned to April, that lead had been cut to five.

    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 75pts
    2 Chelsea 70pts
    3 Arsenal 68pts
    4 Liverpool 61pts
    5 Bolton 53pts
    6 Tottenham 49pts

    18 Sheffield United 31pts
    19 West Ham 29pts
    20 Watford 21pts

    A/N: Happy Derpy day, everyone. The title race is heating up...
     
    #37 Wessexbrony, 1 March 2019
    Last edited: 2 March 2019
  18. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 34

    A Familiar Foe

    Tuesday 3rd April

    Perhaps it was to be expected that Chelsea would face Liverpool in the Champions League. After all, the two sides had met in the last two tournaments - the group stage in the previous season, and the semi final the season before that.

    “I know we stuffed them at Anfield a few weeks ago, but this is different,” I said to Dinky, as the two of us prepared to depart for the match. “They have an annoying habit of showing up when we face them in a cup.”

    What probably didn't help was Mourinho harping on about the “ghost goal” at Anfield which had ultimately seen Liverpool beat Chelsea in the semis two years prior.

    “Welcome to Big Match Live: Champions League,” Big Match said, as Derpy and Twilight took their usual places in a packed Traveller’s Rest, “Everyone's been talking about this one since the draw was made; it's the quarter final first leg between Chelsea and Liverpool. While over on Sport 2, there's live coverage of tonight's other quarter final match between Lyon and Barcelona...”



    “Yet again, Chelsea and Liverpool meet in the Champions League,” Kick Off said, as the teams walked out onto the pitch, “This is the third season in a row that they’ve met in this competition, and Chelsea will be looking to replicate their performance at Anfield back in March…”

    “You know what tonight’s all about, Dinks?” Rainbow Dash asked Dinky, as the teams lined up for the anthem.

    “Getting a solid lead to take into the second leg,” Dinky replied.

    “Nope!” Rainbow Dash said, “It’s about revenge for the ghost goal at Anfield. We were going to win the Champions League that year and then the ref gives them a goal which didn’t even cross the line!”

    “She was at that match at Anfield two years ago,” I said, when Dinky looked puzzledly at me, “So was I, for that matter.”

    The opening ten minutes were a cagey affair, as both sides looked for an opening. In the tenth minute, Kuyt took the ball wide for Liverpool before going for a cross, which was intercepted by Essien ahead of Alonso.

    Chelsea launched their first serious attack three minutes later. Gerrard lost the ball to Gudjohnsen, who went on a run through the Liverpool half and held off Carragher before seeing his shot parried by Reina, with Riise clearing the loose ball.

    In the eighteenth minute, Robben got away down the right before sending a cross into the area. Gudjohnsen met his cross with a header, which was saved by Reina.

    “It'll come…” I said, as the game entered a scrappy ten minute phase.

    Just after the half hour mark, Ballack looked to cross the ball but was brought down by Steve Finnan, who received a yellow card. The free kick was too wide for Lampard to go for goal, but he passed the ball into the area, where Drogba beat Pennant to send the ball into the top corner and give Chelsea the lead.

    Six minutes later, the ball was intercepted by Terry, who passed to Lampard. Lampard played the ball to Gudjohnsen, who fed Robben out wide. Robben played the ball through to Drogba, who sent a shot wide.

    From the goal kick, the ball bounced awkwardly and Bellamy got to it before Mikel. He then passed to Kuyt, who got past Terry before shooting straight at Cech.

    Two minutes from the break, a cross from Robben was headed clear by Alonso ahead of Drogba. The ball fell to Ballack, whose first time shot went wide.

    In the final minute of the half, a headed clearance from Carvalho found Drogba, who beat Hyypia before passing to Lampard. Lampard got past Gerrard and played in Gudjohnsen, who held off Finnan and Carragher before getting into the area and getting off a shot which ended up in the net to double Chelsea's lead, despite Reina getting his hands to it.

    “We just need to keep them out in the second half,” I said, handing Dinky a muffin at the half time break, “Not conceding an away goal has to take priority over going for a third.”

    However, Liverpool came out in the second half and looked to get an away goal. Early in the half, they won a corner which was cleared by Robben, before a cross from Gonzalez was caught by Cech.

    Just before the hour mark, Alonso passed to Bellamy, who slipped the ball to Gonzalez. Gonzalez beat Carvalho to send a cross into the area, and Kuyt beat Terry to head the ball past Cech and into the net off the far post to bring Liverpool back into the game.

    This seemed to spark something in Chelsea, and five minutes later, Gudjohnsen played a cross field ball to Ballack. Ballack’s cross was met by the head of Drogba, but Reina was equal to it.

    With just under 20 minutes left, Gerrard sent a pass to Pennant, who sent a long cross into the area. Bellamy got his head to the ball, but his header was saved by Cech.

    Chelsea then began to dominate, with Lampard seeing a shot saved by Reina, who then tipped a Drogba shot behind before saving Carvalho’s header from the resulting corner.

    With eight minutes to go, a pass from Essien found Ballack, who set off down the right and evaded a despairing lunge from Riise before sending a cross into the area, where Lampard beat Carragher to volley the ball into the top corner to restore Chelsea’s two-goal lead.

    As the match entered the last five minutes, the Blues looked to increase their lead. First, Drogba passed to Robben, whose shot was blocked. Then, as the match entered stoppage time, Gudjohnsen intercepted a long pass from Alonso and passed through to Drogba, who got into the area and turned Carragher before seeing his shot saved by Reina.

    However, there was one last twist in the match. In the final minute of stoppage time, Alonso found Gerrard, who turned Robben and fed Bellamy with a through ball. Bellamy’s shot struck the post, but the rebound fell to Kuyt, who fired the ball into the opposite corner.

    Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool (Drogba 32, Gudjohnsen 45, Lampard 82; Kuyt 59, 90+2)

    “This has been an extraordinary match tonight,” Kick Off exclaimed, as the players left the pitch, “Chelsea come away with the lead, but Liverpool have the away goals for when the teams meet at Anfield for the second leg in a week’s time; this tie is poised on a knife-edge!”

    “So too is the other tie played tonight,” Big Match said, “Lyon have beaten Barcelona 2-1 in their match at the Stade de Gerland…”


    “To be honest, we really could have done without conceding that away goal right at the end,” I said, as I put Dinky to bed that night, “I’d very much have preferred to go to Anfield with a two-goal lead. But,” I continued, “The players will know what they have to do. Avoid defeat, and we go through to the semifinals.”
     
  19. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 35

    A Rude Awakening

    Thursday 5th April

    “That was some match last night,” Lyra said, as she and Autumn talked in the latter’s office.

    “It was some match the night before as well, if I remember correctly,” Autumn replied.

    “I mean it, though,” Lyra said, as the radio moved to sports news.

    “And Manchester United have one foot in the semi finals of the Champions League after last night’s match at the Bernabeu…” Kick Off’s voice then came on the radio.

    “...now Giggs, passes to Rooney, oh, how about that! Fantastic strike by Wayne Rooney, beating Casillas at the near post from the edge of the area! What a way to end a match! Real Madrid two, Manchester United three!”

    “John Terry has praised the atmosphere at Chelsea’s game against Liverpool on Tuesday night, saying that it was ‘electric’. The Blues travel to Anfield next Wednesday for the second leg of the quarter final, but before that they travel to Bolton on Saturday; Sam Allardyce has said that he believes his side can still make it into the Champions League…”


    Saturday 7th April

    Eight league wins in a row and closing the gap on Manchester United to five points made for a positive mood as the supporters’ train made its way north towards Lancashire. A win was imperative, as Manchester United were facing their local rivals at the City of Manchester Stadium.

    As the half time whistle blew, however, any positive mood had vanished. Chelsea, resting Terry, Lampard and Drogba for the Liverpool game, had started in a tired manner, with Bolton much the fresher for not being in Europe. Nicolas Anelka had given the home side the lead in the 9th minute with a low shot across Cech, before Kevin Nolan had doubled it two minutes later after latching onto a pass from Kevin Davies and sliding the ball into the net.

    Chelsea recovered, and started to come into the game, finally getting their reward four minutes from half time when Salomon Kalou played in Wright-Phillips, who fired home from a narrow angle.

    However, Anelka came up again, this time pouncing on the rebound after Cech had saved from Davies, to give Bolton a 3-1 half time lead.

    “Well, this does not look good for Chelsea,” the commentator on the radio said, as Rainbow Dash and Derpy listened with grim faces, “With Liverpool on the horizon - and they currently lead Middlesbrough by a goal to nil at Anfield - this could be a demoralising blow. Manchester United are being held, nil-nil in the Manchester derby, but that would see them increase their lead as it stands…”

    Chelsea needed a good start to the second half, and that is what they got. Seven minutes into the half, Robben was fouled as he approached the area on the left.

    “I’ve seen him score these,” I said, as Ballack stood over the free kick, “For Bayern and Germany.”

    Sure enough, Ballack stepped up and fired a dipping shot over the wall and into the net to reduce the deficit.

    This galvanised something in Chelsea, and three minutes later, the Blues won a corner, which was cleared. Mourinho then looked to inject some energy into his front three, bringing Joe Cole on to replace Wright-Phillips.

    Bolton looked to crowd the midfield and frustrate Chelsea, but with just over 20 minutes left, a shot from Kalou was tipped wide by Jaaskelainen, with Ballack heading wide from the resulting corner.

    “...going into the final twenty minutes at The Reebok Stadium,” the radio commentator announced, “Mourinho has brought Gudjohnsen on to replace Kalou, news coming through as well that Middlesbrough have equalised at Anfield…”

    With just under fifteen minutes left, Arjen Robben got into the box and let fly with a shot which Jaaskelainen had to do well to tip wide. Gudjohnsen took the resulting corner, and a catastrophic miscommunication between Jaaskelainen and Vaz Te allowed Kovac to head the ball into an empty net and bring Chelsea level. As the away fans celebrated, Allardyce bellowed at his defenders, as his side’s Champions League hopes seemingly went out of the window.

    “United?” Dinky asked, as the home side kicked off.

    “Still nil-nil,” replied a nearby supporter.

    Chelsea now had the bit between their teeth, and with two minutes to go, Ashley Cole sent Robben down the left. Robben got to the area and sent in a cross, which Michael Essien connected with. As the entire away section rose to their feet (and, in a few cases, hooves), Jaaskelainen got down low to make the save.

    The final whistle went, and the two of us made our way out of the stands, as another commotion seemed to emerge from the concourse.

    “United were held again?”

    “You serious?”

    “Nil-nil.”

    “Oh, yes!”

    “Get in there!”

    Bolton Wanderers 3-3 Chelsea (Anelka 9, 44, Nolan 11; Wright-Phillips 41, Ballack 53, Kovac 77)

    Man City 0-0 Man Utd


    Premier League Table

    1 Man Utd 76pts
    2 Chelsea 71pts
    3 Arsenal 71pts
    4 Liverpool 62pts
    5 Tottenham 52pts
    6 Bolton 51pts

    18 Sheffield United 31pts
    19 West Ham 29pts
    20 Watford 24pts


    “Right, five league matches left,” I said, as the train took us back to London, “West Ham away, Sheffield United at home, Wigan away, Charlton at home and United at home. United have to face Arsenal as well, while we have four of the bottom five. I can see Arsenal getting something from United; so if that happens and we win our last five then the title should go to us.”

    “Should?” Dinky asked.

    “United have a better goal difference,” I replied, “Of course, we’ve also got the FA Cup and Champions League to consider. Focus right now needs to shift to Liverpool on Wednesday.”
     
  20. Wessexbrony

    Wessexbrony UKoE resident Victor Meldrew

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    Chapter 36

    A Pivotal Clash

    Wednesday 11th April

    The sound of Dinky's radio alarm woke her from her sleep, and she groaned as she felt the butterflies in her stomach. If Liverpool were to win tonight, Chelsea would be out of the Champions League, all the hope built up over the last two months would be dashed, and Belladonna would win. She headed for my room, hoping that a hug would soothe her nerves.

    “...Manchester United had no trouble getting into the Champions League semi finals last night with a 2-0 win over Real Madrid at Old Trafford. Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Scholes saw United triumph 5-2 on aggregate…”

    That was old news to the both of us - we'd watched that game the previous night.

    “...they will face AC Milan in the semi finals, after the Italian side ground out a goalless draw against Valencia to progress 1-0 on aggregate.”

    “You really need to eat something,” I said a bit later, as Dinky stared at her breakfast.

    “I'm not hungry,” she replied.

    “Nerves?” I asked. She nodded.

    “I've been nervous before a game several times,” I said, “And I've always felt better with something inside me.”


    “Good evening, and welcome to Big Match Live: Champions League,” Big Match said, “We're at Anfield for tonight's pivotal second leg match between Liverpool and Chelsea, while on Sport 2, you can find live coverage of tonight's other match at the Nou Camp between Barcelona and Lyon…”

    It was ironic, Dinky thought, that the song which had been sung to her on her first night in London was being belted out en masse by the home support.



    “What a match we have for you tonight,” Kick Off exclaimed, as the teams walked onto the pitch, “Quite frankly, it’s impossible to call; Chelsea hold a slender lead from the first leg, but those two away goals mean that Liverpool would go through if they win tonight. The Blues are without Makelele, who picked up a knock against Bolton; can Mourinho’s side avenge their defeat here in 2005 and progress to the semi finals?”

    Chelsea looked to get an away goal or two of their own, and with six minutes gone a cross from Ballack was parried by Reina and cleared by Carragher and Finnan. Two minutes later, a header from Ferreira found Lampard, who turned Hyypia and went for goal, only for his shot to be saved by Reina before Finnan cleared.

    It took until the sixteenth minute for Liverpool’s first real attack, which resulted in Pennant being tackled by Ashley Cole before Terry cleared.

    The match devolved into a midfield battle interspersed with half chances for each side until the 33rd minute. Drogba passed to Lampard, who set off on a run through the Liverpool half, recovering from a tackle by Gerrard and getting away from Riise before his cross found Essien, whose shot was tipped behind by Reina.

    Four minutes later, Ashley Cole found Lampard, who played the ball on to Drogba. Drogba looked to shoot, but he was thwarted by a last ditch tackle by Riise.

    As half time approached, Chelsea looked to attack once more, with Ballack’s cross finding Drogba, whose shot was saved by Reina.

    “So, still goalless at half time,” Kick Off said, as the teams left the pitch, “As it stands, Chelsea would go through. They have had more of the game, and arguably should be ahead, but there are still 45 minutes to go…”

    Chelsea still showed no intention of sitting back, and eleven minutes into the second half, Ballack got down the right and sent in a cross. This time, Gudjohnsen got on the end of it, and volleyed the ball across Reina and into the net.

    “What a finish!” Kick Off shouted, as Rainbow Dash and Derpy visibly relaxed in the Traveller’s Rest (as did Dinky at Anfield as Gudjohnsen wheeled away to celebrate in front of the away fans, closely followed by Drogba, Lampard and Ballack), “Eidur Gudjohnsen, who missed a chance here to send Chelsea to the final two years ago, gives them the lead! It’s one-nil to Chelsea on the night, four-two to Chelsea on aggregate, and Liverpool have 35 minutes to find two goals!”

    Liverpool looked to hit back instantly, and two minutes later a free kick from Gerrard was headed clear by Carvalho. Gerrard recovered, however, and played a through ball to Kuyt, who fired the ball over from a tight angle.

    Chelsea then looked to attack the flanks in the following ten-minute period, as Essien first evaded the lunge of Finnan and got down the left before his cross was cleared into touch. Ballack then saw a cross deflected into touch, before a Mikel cross was caught by Reina.

    Chelsea continued to dominate as the match entered the last twenty minutes. With seventeen minutes to go, a clearance from Xabi Alonso was intercepted by Mikel, who played a long ball to Drogba. Drogba got past Hyypia into the area before taking a shot which was saved by Reina and cleared by Finnan.

    “What a chance that was,” Kick Off said, “Drogba could have won the tie for Chelsea there.”

    Two minutes later, Ferreira found Lampard, who went off on a run, getting past Gerrard before he himself saw a shot saved by Reina.

    Then, in the 78th minute, Pennant got down the right, getting a cross in. Craig Bellamy was able to beat Carvalho to the ball and volleyed past Cech to bring the hosts level on the night.

    “Oh, a brilliant volley!” Kick Off exclaimed, “Craig Bellamy brings Liverpool back on level terms, and it’s now one-all on the night, four-three to Chelsea on aggregate; whichever side scores next will surely go through!”

    “We’ll see it through,” I said, putting an arm around Dinky as she tensed up, just as I’d done during the Galatasaray match.

    Chelsea suffered a blow with ten minutes to play, as Carvalho limped off with a thigh strain and was replaced by Boulahrouz for the last ten minutes. This didn’t seem to faze Chelsea, however, and as the game entered the last three minutes Drogba passed to Gudjohnsen, who beat Finnan, Carragher and Hyypia as he got into the box, only to shoot wide. With one minute of normal time to go, a headed clearance from Boulahrouz found Drogba, who played in Gudjohnsen. Gudjohnsen turned Carragher and got into the area, only for Carragher to get back and tackle him before he could shoot.

    As the match entered stoppage time, Kewell got down the left and turned Boulahrouz, before looking to find Pennant with a cross field ball. Ashley Cole, however, intercepted, and blasted the ball up the pitch.

    Two minutes later, the whistle went.

    Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea (Bellamy 78; Gudjohnsen 56) Chelsea win 4-3 on aggregate

    “There’s the final whistle, and an exhilarating European night has ended in triumph for Chelsea!” Kick Off said, “This time, Mourinho gets one over on Benitez in a cup competition and avenges the 2005 semi-final. Chelsea have seen off the challenge of Liverpool and silenced the Mersey beat; they march on into the semifinals, where they will face Barcelona!”

    “Indeed,” Big Match said in the studio, “Barcelona beating Lyon 2-0 at the Nou Camp tonight to go through 3-2 on aggregate. So, a recap of the two semifinals; Chelsea against Barcelona and AC Milan against Manchester United.”


    It was late as the train sped south from Liverpool, but nobody seemed in any mood for sleep as the euphoria of getting revenge for 2005 had spread through every carriage.

    “So, how would you like a trip to the Nou Camp for the semi final second leg?” I asked.

    Dinky paused, contemplating her answer.

    “Oh, why not?” She replied, “We’ve got this far.”
     

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