Reece James Comeback Special rescues Chelsea from themselves and boosts Europa hopes

Dave Tickner
Reece James and Nicolas Jackson celebrate a late Chelsea winner at Nottingham Forest
Reece James and Nicolas Jackson celebrate a late winner at Forest

We perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised by an odd game between two of the Premier League’s odder football teams in Nottingham Forest and Chelsea, but still. That was an odd game, albeit with a 3-2 Chelsea win being a surprisingly likely outcome for reasons we shall get to.

Until the last 20 minutes or so, there was a whole end-of-season vibe to proceedings that only made any kind of sense from the Forest perspective.

With both Burnley and Luton losing earlier in the day, Forest were able to enjoy this knowing that only something very silly indeed next week could see them go down in Luton’s stead. And when Forest of all teams are able to look at a situation and go “That is a mathematical unlikelihood we need not worry about” then you know it’s a daft one. It’s a 12-goal swing that will be needed next week for Forest to go down and we’re very confident it won’t happen. Yeah, that’s right: it’s balls on the block prediction time.

So Forest playing with a loosey-goosey freedom made some sense. Chelsea joining in wholeheartedly: not so much. The 3pm results had also gone pretty well for them, with Newcastle’s home draw against Brighton giving Chelsea renewed hope of finishing sixth.

Yet they spent an hour seemingly treating this as an end-of-season jolly with nothing left to play for. It was only substitutions that changed the flow of the game, with the introductions of Raheem Sterling and Reece James particularly transformative although Christopher Nkunku and Malo Gusto made their own energising impact.

The presence of names such as those among the substitutes was significant enough for Chelsea, who have in recent weeks been required to fill their bench with all manner of untested youth.

But it still shouldn’t have needed their introduction to rouse Chelsea from their slumbers in an objectively vital game.

Football being football, Chelsea’s best spell since the opening 10 minutes of the game was also the one that saw them fall behind when Callum Hudson-Odoi finally managed to do what he’d spent the whole game threatening against his former team, cutting in from a largely unguarded outpost on the left and curling in with his right foot.

Chelsea above all others should have known what to expect even before today and certainly could not say they hadn’t been warned by the time it finally happened.

But they responded to extend what is now a very long and encouraging run of very decent league form if not always very decent performances. Sterling produced a cut-in-and-curl-one effort of his own to equalise before the most pleasing moment of the game from a Chelsea perspective for very obvious reasons.

Late winners are always fun, important late winners are even more fun, and important late winners set up by delicious first-time crosses from a much-missed Reece James better still.

This was a wildly uneven, topsy-turvy Chelsea performance that ended on a high, and the likelihood is that’s going to be a pretty decent summary of the season as a whole. Win their last two games against Brighton and Bournemouth – and on current form that seems likely – and they’ll finish with 63 points.

It’s not spectacular, but it’s only three points fewer than 2019/20 and four points fewer than 2020/21, and Chelsea finished fourth in both those seasons. We’re not pointing this out as evidence of great progress or huge encouragement, but more to show that the margins between good and bad seasons can be very fine indeed.

Still, though. For a club that finished a clearly unacceptable 12th last season and started this campaign in a frightful mess, it is at the very least something.

Forest for their part remain almost too silly for words. Needing just a point to take the tiny remaining fragments of stress out of the final day, they failed despite leading with 10 minutes left to play.

This is, ridiculously, their seventh 3-2 defeat of the Premier League season. And that’s too many, isn’t it? Too many 3-2 defeats. Forest have lost as many games 3-2 this season as Liverpool and Man City have lost between them by any scoreline at all.

But they will be back for another go next season. Fewer 3-2 defeats and fewer points penalties would be our advice for them next season, if they’re interested.

A third one if they need it; maybe rein in the conspiracy nonsense a bit because it does make them look and sound a little bit mad.