Petr Cech saves Chelsea's blushes at Upton Park

Premier League

West Ham United 0
Chelsea 1
  • Kalou 55
Frank Lampard

Frank Lampard battles with West Ham's James Tomkins. Photograph: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

As much as this meant to the two East London boys in Chelsea's team — and didn't the inhabitants of the Bobby Moore Stand test the eardrums of Frank Lampard and John Terry with some pitiless serenades — the man whose heart was most warmed by this routine win was Petr Cech.

The Czech goalkeeper, so twitchy of late, gave his confidence a boost with a classy penalty save. It was an action equally significant to the touch of the goalscorer, Salomon Kalou, and helped to give Chelsea the perfect warm-up for the Champions League semi-final. Not overly strenuous, a few rested bodies, and one happy goalkeeper. What more could Guus Hiddink have wanted?

His team was picked with bigger fish in mind. A particularly makeshift defence was built with Barcelona in mind. No Alex, no protection from Michael Essien until a late substitute's job, and — most tellingly of all — José Bosingwa had an hour stationed at left-back to gain some much-needed practice before he covers for the suspended Ashley Cole in the Camp Nou on Tuesday night.

"With all due respect it is different to play West Ham than Lionel Messi," confessed Hiddink. "It is a huge task but Bosingwa is confident. If he can neutralise Messi it would be perfect." Indeed.Here they could largely control uncharacteristically flat opponents. West Ham were not at their sparkiest, and relinquished pole position for next season's Europa League.

Gianfranco Zola apologised to the supporters, who he reckoned "expected more", but claimed not to be too disappointed personally. After the game he signed a four-year contract extension. "I am delighted," he enthused. "I am very thankful to the club, which has been looking after me. We have a project here that we are taking forward, and we will try everything to make it happen."

West Ham did muster a couple of chances in the first half, without being clinical enough to disturb Chelsea. When Diego Tristán split Chelsea's defence with a peach of a pass, Kieron Dyer, his first start for the best part of two seasons, clipped his shot straight at Cech.

Just before half time West Ham won a corner, and made a point of crowding around Cech. Matthew Upson won the ball and nodded to Tristán, but his dink was featherlight, and easily cleared by John Obi Mikel. Glimpses of goal aside, West Ham looked a bit inhibited by Chelsea, and allowed the visitors plenty of possession. Florent Malouda, Frank Lampard and Nicolas Anelka all peppered in first-half shots. All fell wide.

Not so after the break, as nine minutes into the second half West Ham were punished for untidy defending when Lampard hooked a cross over the goalmouth for an unmarked Kalou to tap in. Dyer responded with an angled drive on the break, which Cech tipped away.

Chelsea were ominous though. They looked comfortable, yet ready to pounce if an invitation presented itself. Anelka was blocked by Green, and substitute Cole skimmed the crossbar.

Typically of West Ham's afternoon, they couldn't bite at the carrot that came their way 20 minutes from the end. Referee Mike Dean pointed eagerly to the penalty spot when Kalou tugged back Herita Ilunga. Mark Noble struck his spot-kick firmly towards the corner, but Cech sprawled to his left to claw away superbly. This was by no means a penalty miss. It was a points-winning, point-making save, and Cech's roaring celebration suggests he knew it.

Hiddink was pleased. "We don't deny he had some difficult times before. When a goalie makes decisive actions it is good for him. But it wasn't just this game — he showed some good saves against Everton as well." Hiddink is adamant there is one way to avoid an onslaught at Barcelona. "What we must not do is drop back and wait until the storm is coming. If we can, we must try to harm them as well."

All the experienced hands, well rested and full of beans, will be at the pump.

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Premier League: West Ham 0-1 Chelsea: Petr Cech saves penalty as Salomon Kalou's strike finishes off West Ham

This article was first published on at 17.20 BST on Saturday 25 April 2009. It appeared in the Observer on Sunday 26 April 2009 on p5 of the News & features section. It was last updated at 20.37 BST on Saturday 25 April 2009.

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Premier League

Pos Team Pld W D L Pts
5 Aston Villa 34 15 10 9 55
6 Everton 34 14 11 9 53
7 Fulham 34 12 11 11 47
8 West Ham United 34 12 9 13 45
9 Manchester City 34 13 5 16 44
10 Tottenham Hotspur 34 12 8 14 44
11 Wigan Athletic 33 11 8 14 41

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