OLIVIER GIROUD was crowned a world champion in Moscow two years ago today.
To mark the occasion, Chelsea’s French striker played like he would have missed Russia entirely from six yards out until finally hitting the target at the fourth time of asking.
But when the goal that could prove crucial to his team’s Champions League aspirations did arrive it was typically the easiest of the lot and came at the best possible moment.
Having twisted, turned, huffed, puffed, preened and pranced around the Norwich penalty area, veteran Giroud found that simply falling over into the path of an exquisite cross and sticking his perfectly-coiffured head out was most effective.
And coming on the stroke of half time it meant Chelsea could skip into the dressing room with their tails up instead of between their legs as they battled to see off a relegated team offering little threat butproving surprisingly awkward.
If it’s not defensive clangers bugging Chelsea it seems to be wasting chances to put key games to bed. That is how Lampard’s first season as boss is approaching its nervy climax.
Victory means they are now four points clear in third place in the Premier League and putting the pressure on Leicester and Manchester United as the chasing pair.
Yet where Saturday’s calamitous 3-0 pummeling at Sheffield United was utterly deflating for Lampard, last night was way too uncomfortable.
In a similar fashion to last week’s hair-raising 3-2 win at Crystal Palace, this performance was yet another unsure display against a team with nothing to play for.
Norwich were sent down by West Ham on Saturday. So, the only thing on the minds of the decent players at the club now is to put on a show in the hope of getting a move away to a team still in the top flight.
One of those will surely be winger Todd Cantwell. Thankfully with his braided blonde hair now untied but kept in check with a girly alice band, the 22-year-old can at least match his fancy image with a ball at his feet and will surely be gone in a few weeks’ time.
The focus is on Chelsea now as they cling on for Champions League football next season.
Leicester and Manchester United did them a huge turn by losing and drawing their most recent respective games from which they simply had to cash in.
Ultimately they have but it was no an easy experience for Lampard to watch again as his defence held tight but Giroud and several of his attacking team-mates spared Norwich a proper thrashing.
Twenty minutes in and Giroud was cursing himself for failing to achieve any power on a half volley in the box after being presented with a free shot on target via a careless header from City’s England Under-21 defender Ben Godfrey.
Giroud’s lame stab at the ball simply redirected it straight into the welcoming arms of keeper Tim Krul.
Ten minutes later he was way off the mark after his captain Cesar Azpilicueta did all the hard work and cut back a perfect cross for Giroud to unwind his right foot and shoot harmlessly wide.
Four minutes before half time the despair reached new levels when the ball fell to Chelsea’s normally graceful finisher less than ten yards out and he could not get a clean shot away.
Giroud’s goal sandwiched a series of missed chances and classy saves from Krul – by far Norwich’s best player of the season.
Eight minutes into the second half, he headed over from another cross into the box and was then admittedly did well to even get his head onto a ball from Azpilicueta in the 55th minute that sailed over.
Krul made point blank saves from Christian Pulisic and Marcos Alonso in a one-man show of defiance just to add to home frustrations.
To cap it off, Giroud’s final act of a topsy turvy night was to miss his sixth chance when he slid across the deck only to poke a low cross from Willian wide yet again.
He was subbed with four minutes remaining to be replaced by Tammy Abraham.
Willian forced another good save from Krul with two minutes left from a free kick way out on the right flank.
There was little defending for them to do but Antonio Rudiger – back in the starting line up – does deserve credit for the timing of his tackle on Onel Hernandez as he crossed into the area in the second half.
Chelsea have now taken a big step towards securing top level European competition next season.
But with their wobbly ways, don’t bet against them falling over a couple more times on the way.