Chelsea end season with 2-1 win at Cardiff

Michael Steele

And so it ends.

It would have been fitting had Chelsea had one final game in which they dominated but were let down by their finishing, and for ages in this match looked like it would fit the bill. Cardiff played like the already-relegated side they are and either were content to sit back and let Blues do their thing or simply couldn't stop them from so doing. And in return, Chelsea's 'thing' involved creating great chances and finding new and amusing ways to miss them.

Fernando Torres failed to score after rounding David Marshall, Mohamed Salah demonstrated some implausibly bad finishing, Oscar dallied too long when through on goal... and Craig Bellamy scored via a vicious deflection off Cesar Azpilicueta to give the Bluebirds whatever we're calling them these days a 1-0 lead at halftime. It was one of those leads we'd call undeserved had we not been subject to seeing this happen over and over again this year.

Do you know how long it had been since Chelsea came from behind in a league match? December 29th, 2013, when Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto'o combined to overcome a Martin Skrtel goal and see off Liverpool 2-1. While we're used to a certain never say die attitude in these parts, it had been so long since we'd done it (in part because we've rarely gone behind in 2014) that I was skeptical of our chances.

But the second half eventually proved fruitful enough. Jose Mourinho withdrew John Obi Mikel, introducing Andre Schurrle in his place and shuffling Oscar back into the centre of midfield. Six minutes later, Chelsea were level.

When one imagines us scoring, it rarely involves an Azpilicueta header from open play. And yet that's exactly what led to the equaliser. Oscar swung in a cross from the left, the fullback met the delivery with a snap header, and although Marshall did quite brilliantly to parry, the rebound fell -- via Azpilicueta and then the crossbar -- to Schurrle, who volleyed in off the ground.

It was a messy goal, and we'd barely had time to celebrate before another arrived. For some reason, Schurrle's header found Torres all alone in the six yard box, and the striker made up for a slew of bad decisions with a poked finish to give us a 2-1 lead.

There wasn't much to do after that but hand a full debut to Jonathan Swift, who came on for Eden Hazard with a minute left to cap off a quite remarkable season at under-21 level. And that was that.

* * *

While 2013/14 wasn't what many were hoping for, especially after the astonishing run we went on from early December through the end of February, it's difficult to deny that it represents real progress on where we've been for quite some time. Chelsea finished four points off the Champions, ten closer to the title than we were last season, and made a thoroughly respectable showing in Europe. This is a much better side than we've seen since the early Ancelotti era, trophies or no.

The manager will get some stick for the way we capitulated when the title was within our grasp (and he deserves it), but his real job was to get us turned around from being stuck in what I will lovingly call the Arsenal rut. For two years, we've been desperately scrambling just to finish in the top four; failing to clinch a title represents obvious progress.

I've never finished a season so ready to embark on the next. There are flaws in this team that need fixing, but once that's done it's difficult to see what can stop Chelsea returning to the glory days of the mid 2000s. I had no expectations of winning the league in 2013/14; I will be disappointed if we don't do so next year. The transition is over, the ship has been righted, and New Chelsea are rising rather than simply struggling to keep afloat.

We'll see you all next August. Oh, and congratulations to Manchester City. Enjoy the trophy while you can.

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