45 min +2: Colwill’s speculative long pass down the left is needlessly shinned out for a corner by Lockyer. Thankfully for the Luton captain, nothing comes of the resulting set piece.
45 min: There will be two added minutes. “My new friend Charlie has hit on what I like to call the Pembridge Paradox,” counters David Hopkins. “As he says, Pembo had a habit of banging in a 20-yard free kick then walking calmly back to the halfway line, which tended to be taken as proof of his lack of commitment. Yet weirdly he’d lose the run of himself if a teammate scored – say Paul Kitson after a Pembridge assisted goal to put Derby 3-2 up in a cup quarter final. Now Paul Kitson – there’s a player who never gave a toss!”
44 min: Luton stroke it around the back in the manner of a team slowly growing in confidence. Suddenly a pass is sprayed down the right for Kabore, who can’t keep it in play. Goal kick.
42 min: Kabore and Burke take turns to make good down the Luton right. A corner. It’s whipped to the near post, where Burke flicks a header on. The ball flies over the bar, having taken a little nick off Chilwell, but Luton aren’t getting their second corner. Goal kick, and Luton are getting a little irritated with the referee.
41 min: Fernandez slides in and catches Chong on the ankle. Again the Luton players and fans want a yellow, again the referee shows Chelsea some leniency the visitors feel they’ve not been granted themselves. Just a wag of the finger.
39 min: Luton take their turn in passing the ball around the middle without going anywhere in particular. A lively match has slipped into a minor lull.
37 min: Chelsea ping it around in the sterile style. Meanwhile Charlie Robinson comes straight back at David Hopkins: “David’s message regarding Mark Pembridge (16 min) really made me chuckle. I have never seen a player look so impassive and disinterested when scoring a goal as Pembridge. Having said that, I do really enjoy seeing someone score and then simply jog back to their own half of the field without showing any emotion whatsoever, consolation goals notwithstanding. More of this, please – players shaking a couple of hands and not making too much of a fuss.”
35 min: Colwill’s loose pass gifts Luton the opportunity to probe down both flanks, but the home defence quickly gathers itself and holds its shape. No way through. Chelsea have been exhilarating in attack but on a couple of occasions they’ve betrayed the fact they’re very much a work in progress.
33 min: Sterling stops Barkley taking a quick free kick in the centre circle and should really go into the book, but the referee thinks twice and, despite initially reaching for his pocket, lets it pass. Lockyer isn’t happy about it at all.
31 min: The resulting free kick, out on the right touchline, is triangulated down the right wing and hit long by Chilwell. The ball’s bundled out at the far stick. Corner. Chilwell takes, and the ball drops to Gusto, who slices a harmless effort high into the Shed.
29 min: Nakamba joins his captain in the referee’s notebook after an over-excited lunge on Gallagher from behind.
27 min: Gallagher sells Disasi short in the midfield. Adebayo strips him of possession and slides Morris into space down the left. Morris doesn’t have the pace to get past Colwill and there’s no chance of getting a shot away. Chelsea counter through Jackson, who is cynically tugged back by Lockyer. The Luton captain goes into the book.
25 min: A bit of space for Kabore down the right, but he shanks a poor cross into the Matthew Harding Stand. Worth saying that the Luton away end is making one hell of a racket this evening. The Hatters may be hot favourites to go down, but their fans have clearly decided to enjoy this unexpected ride whatever. Is there an item of clothing we can take off to salute them?
23 min: Fernandez is in a lively mood too, and he drives at the Luton defence before attempting to slip Jackson free down the left channel. Jackson takes a heavy touch and runs the ball out for a goal kick, but for a nanosecond there, Luton were exposed. “In the NBA when a player is dunked on in an embarrassing fashion the players will say that will end up on a poster,” writes Mary Waltz. “The way Sterling left those defenders in the dust with his run is the football equivalent of being posterized.”
21 min: Barkley rolls a pass down the left for Giles, whose low cross is shinned away by Silva. “Nice goal! Sterling looks in outstanding form so far tonight. Got me thinking. Both he and Jesus have definitely blossomed after leaving Pep. Do you think that is a Guardiola system thing? If so, how good is Haaland going to be when he eventually moves on? Yikes.” Joe Pearson there, in a mood to cause some trouble.
19 min: Luton had defended with determination up to that point … and yet to be honest the goal had been coming. Sterling and Jackson have been right on top of their games since the get-go. Chelsea already had 16 touches in the Luton box.
Raheem Sterling was Chelsea’s best player at West Ham last week, and he’s at it again here! He dribbles infield from the right in electric fashion. He shimmies his way between Giles and Barkley, then glides between Bell and Nakamba, and curls across Kaminski and into the bottom left! That is some solo effort.
16 min: Giles works his way down the left and earns Luton’s first corner of the evening. He takes it himself but it’s easily bashed clear by Silva. Meanwhile the love-in’s back on! “I’m not sure Charlie Robinson (4 min) speaks for all Rams fans re. Mark Pembridge, who I remember quite fondly,” writes David Hopkins. “I do recall though that he had a weird habit of celebrating enthusiastically if a teammate scored but hardly at all if he himself did.”
15 min: Jackson is a menace every time he picks up possession. He tears down the left and slips infield for Colwill, who cushions a pass towards Fernandez. The Argentinian World Cup winner leans back and sends a shot towards the top left but inches over the bar. So close to the opener.
13 min: Fernandez catches Kabore with an elbow on the ear. Accidental but sore. Kabore is permitted some time to roll around rubbing his poor lug. He’s back up and running soon enough.
12 min: Chelsea have enjoyed 85 percent of possession so far. No huge surprise there, and yet Luton will be happy enough with their staunch performance during these early exchanges.
10 min: Gallagher takes up possession just to the right of the Luton D. He drops a shoulder and makes space to shoot, but instead slips Sterling into the box down the channel. Sterling can’t get a shot away with Lockyer standing firm. Clever play by Chelsea, though.
8 min: Caicedo falls over his own feet and allows Chong to dribble off down the right. Chong makes it into the box before hitting a shot-cum-cross through the six-yard box.
7 min: What a save that was … though truth be told, Sterling really should have sent the net bulging.
6 min: Fernandez crosses from the right. Adebayo sticks up an arm to block and is lucky to escape censure. But it’s a free kick in a very dangerous position. Colwill curls it in. Bell’s poor clearing header drops to Sterling, in a pocket of space on the penalty spot. Sterling sends a screamer goalwards … but straight at Kaminiski, who takes the cannonball full in the midriff before holding on with safe hands.
5 min: More brilliance from Jackson, who dribbles elegantly down the inside-right channel before entering the box and laying off for Sterling, whose low drive from a tight angle is blocked. Chelsea come again and win the first corner of the match down the same flank. Fernandez takes but Morris gets just enough on his header to clear.
4 min: A cute flick in the centre circle from the extremely promising Jackson draws appreciative applause from the Chelsea crowd. But in less edifying news, it’s curtains for the Mark Pembridge love-in. Here’s Charlie Robinson: “I must say I’m really looking forward to seeing Ross Barkley back in the Premier League tonight. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that he’s one of the great lost hopes of English football – that might be a bit much – but when he was at his best for Everton, he was superb. As for Mark Pembridge, as a Derby fan, let’s just say we don’t remember his time with the Rams all too fondly. But, at the same time, I can’t think of another Premier League player who had such a long and undistinguished spell at the top level.”
2 min: A free kick for Luton out on the left. Giles hoicks it into the mixer. Sanchez powers a punch clear. How Luton will be wishing their on-looking legend Mick Harford was in the box competing for that.
8 secs: Chelsea go super-direct and look for Sterling on the edge of the Luton box. The ball breaks to Jackson, whose shot is blocked and ends up dribbling through to Kaminski.
Chelsea get the ball rolling. They’re kicking towards the Shed End in this first half.
The teams are out! Chelsea wear blue with no sponsor and shiny psychedelic raver lion – what’s not to like here? – while Luton sport their equally easy-on-the-eye second-choice white shirt with orange sash. Stamford Bridge en fête with a lovely mellow three-or-four-pints-in Friday night atmosphere. A quick blast of the Harry J All Stars, and we’ll be ready to rumble.
Aston Villa 1-2 Luton Town, then, and Mark Pembridge’s thriker. “I was there,” begins Antony Train. “As a Villa fan. WOOF! One of only three opposition goals I’ve ever clapped. The day got even ‘better’: It was the first event at the NIA in Birmingham (Utilita now) that night so we went to see England v USA at basketball. England got absolutely pummelled and it was probably just High School kids from the US. I think it rained too.”
That is one heck of a precision pelt by Pembridge. Derek Mountfield’s own goal was properly roofed as well. This is one video well worth a quick watch.
Chelsea haven’t won at Stamford Bridge in nine matches. It’s like Danny Blanchflower and Geoff Hurst never left office. Sort of. But it’s strange behaviour for the club in its all-conquering modern guise. Here’s that run, stretching back to March 18, in excruciating detail.
Chelsea 2-2 Everton
Chelsea 0-2 Aston Villa
Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool
Chelsea 1-2 Brighton & Hove Albion
Chelsea 0-2 Real Madrid
Chelsea 0-2 Brentford
Chelsea 2-2 Nottingham Forest
Chelsea 1-1 Newcastle United
Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool
If it makes Chelsea fans feel any better, Luton’s winless away stretch in top-flight football is even worse. They’re winless in their last 27 (D6 L21), a run that goes all the way back to March 1991, when they saw off Aston Villa 2-1 at Villa Park thanks to a Derek Mountfield own goal and Mark Pembridge’s strike.
Chelsea’s new boss Mauricio Pochettino talks to Sky. “It’s a matter of time to win games … we have shown good performances but not got the results we wanted … we need to improve in many phases to be competitive … we have plenty of young players … this is why it looks like a big squad but in reality it is not big … it’s an exciting moment … for sure this team has the quality and the capacity to win games … we are so happy [with Moises Caicedo] but at the same time we need to understand he arrived at the last moment and has only trained for ten days with the team, but he is a clever player and can fit quickly … it’s better for him to start than to come from the bench … we want [Raheem Sterling] to repeat the performance he showed at West Ham and to be consistent … now he needs to start to create the links with Nicolas Jackson for goals.”
Luton boss Rob Edwards speaks to Sky Sports. “We’ve seen the ruthless nature of the league … it doesn’t get much more difficult than Brighton away … up until 85 minutes, of course they had the better of the game but we were in it, 2-1 down, and made a change to go attacking … we gifted them a third goal, so one thing: no gifts … we’ve got to close spaces quicker … our intensity was up last year in the Championship but we’ve got to go up again at this level … we’ve got to be more ruthless when we do have moments to counter … I want us to evolve and grow … we’ll play to our strengths … it suits us, being the underdogs … the crowd will be expecting a comfortable Chelsea win so we have to play on that … [Ross Barkley and Tahith Chong] give us something different … you need a little x-factor, because I know we’re not going to have the ball the whole time … this is a nice place to give [Barkley] his debut tonight.”
Chelsea make one change to the starting XI sent out for the 3-1 defeat at West Ham last weekend. The injured Carney Chukwuemeka is replaced by Moises Caicedo, who makes his full debut for the Blues. Mykhailo Mudryk misses out altogether after picking up a knock during the week.
Luton make two changes to the XI named for the 4-1 loss at Brighton on the opening weekend. Ross Barkley, formerly of Stamford Bridge, makes his Hatters debut while defender Reece Burke returns from injury. Mads Anderson and Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu make way and are benched.
Chelsea: Sanchez, Disasi, Thiago Silva, Colwill, Gusto, Caicedo, Fernandez, Chilwell, Sterling, Gallagher, Jackson.
Subs: Cucurella, Madueke, Ugochukwu, Maatsen, Burstow, Bergstrom, Humphreys, Beach, Moreira.
Luton Town: Kaminski, Burke, Lockyer, Bell, Kabore, Barkley, Nakamba, Chong, Giles, Morris, Adebayo.
Subs: Krul, Andersen, Ogbene, Berry, Woodrow, Mpanzu, Brown, Doughty, Johnson.
Referee: Robert Jones (Merseyside).
The last time this fixture was played in the league, in August 1991, Vinnie Jones made his debut for Chelsea. Having signed from Sheffield United the day before, and gone on the radio to observe that his new team had plenty of players who would enjoy “a good punch-up in the tunnel”, he was welcomed enthusiastically by the Stamford Bridge faithful, and set up goals for Graeme Le Saux and Kerry Dixon in a 4-1 win. Jones even had a chance to score himself but, never prolific in front of goal, found himself “caught in 32 minds” and aimed for the corner flag instead. Phil Gray scored a consolation, Luton’s first goal of the season in their fifth match.
David Pleat’s side were always destined for relegation, though they did at least win the reverse fixture 2-0 at Kenilworth Road just after Christmas. Richard Harvey belted in a long-range free kick, then John Dreyer scored a penalty past a fuming Dave Beasant, convinced Mark Pembridge had gone over too easily to win it. And that was the last time Chelsea and Luton saw each other in top-flight football.
There have been dalliances in the FA Cup since, most notably a 1994 FA Cup semi-final in which Gavin Peacock scored twice against a Luton team now featuring the aforementioned Blues hero Dixon. And then there was this entertaining back-and-forth a couple of years ago, played out in the wake of Roman Abramovich announcing his plans to do one. So these two clubs know how to put on a show. Kick-off tonight is at 8pm BST. It’s on!