The anti-hero soldiers on
This time in West London, we saw two fewer red cards, one less goal and will hopefully avoid another court case, resultant Football Association racism charge and any further ensuing saga. With no goals to cheer, the afternoon's loudest roar came when John Terry pulled up with what looked like a match-ending injury. As ever though, the anti-hero would soldier on. The insults and brickbats were seemingly ignored but instead served as motivation for a personal performance that was solid and commanding where his team-mates were often not.
When Chelsea's luxury coach had pulled into QPR's entrance on South Africa Road, what tabloid newspapers describe as a 'hate mob' greeted Terry and wing-man Ashley Cole. The barracking was loud enough but it all seemed a bit half-hearted, pantomimic in its vehemence. After a career in which Terry has played through many a scandal, few could expect to rattle him. Indeed, Terry has often played at his best when in the eye of a storm - the winner at Burnley when the Wayne Bridge affair broke springing to mind. As so often, and well-practiced as he is, Terry strode on past his wannabe tormentors as if they did not exist, his eyes blankly staring ahead. There would be at least one other moment of truth to negotiate.
The PR charade of the Premier League 'Respect' handshake, where the sponsor's name is shown off as players sidle past each other, is a fairly recent introduction, but it has already yielded its fair share of bad publicity. Television stations have delayed their advert breaks when a flashpoint is expected, as happened with Terry and Bridge in 2010, and Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra earlier this year.
Our headline moment duly arrived when Anton Ferdinand, still adamant he was racially abused last October, avoided shaking the hand of both Terry and Cole. This was barely a 'will he, won't he?' affair. It was greeted with rancour but no surprise. The template for handshake avoidance had been set by the aforementioned incidents, though it was something of a shock that skipper Park Ji-Sung also refused to shake Terry's hand.
"I had a discussion and some were prepared to shake the opposition's hand and some weren't. It was personal choice," a dismissive QPR boss Mark Hughes said. "I've got the utmost respect for the Respect campaign but this element causes more problems than it solves."
"We offered. We've done our part," Di Matteo added, seemingly tired of the whole handshake hoopla. "Both sets of players have focused on the football, showed how professional they are." The clubs had spent 15 years apart, but absence clearly did not make the heart grow fonder in West London. The fixture that gave rise to the original Terry v Ferdinand farrago - 11 long months ago - was dipped in sulphur from the kick-off. This started as no different before eventually ebbing in its intensity. The cramped structure of Loftus Road means the 18,271 fans were almost on top of the players. Every chant could be heard. "Ashley Cole, you're John Terry's bitch" led the hit parade in the first half among the Rangers fans. "One lying bastard" was the retort towards Ferdinand by the Chelsea fans.
Meanwhile, there was a football match being played amid the cat-calling. Chelsea had the better of the first-half chances, with both Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres forcing saves from Julio Cesar on the Brazilian's debut in the QPR gloves.
Hazard, Chelsea's new flying machine, could have had a penalty when falling under a challenge from sub Nedum Onouha, on for Fabio Da Silva. Fabio limped off forlornly. He has joined on loan from Manchester United to play more games, but his early exit was an all-too familiar sight from his time at Old Trafford. Undoubtedly talented, questions may be raised about his physical aptitude for the game. On Rangers' bench, Kieron Dyer sat, almost as a reminder of how injuries can wreck a once-promising career.
Chelsea were perhaps thankful that neither Bobby Zamora nor Andy Johnson, who soon took his leave of injury absence too, are of Radamel Falcao's class, after their humiliation in Monaco a fortnight ago. After the fleet-footed and flowing victories against Wigan, Reading and Newcastle, the nature of this fixture demanded more of the type of grinding-out that was once meat and drink to them. That quality evaded them here.
Juan Mata's creativity was missed in midfield, and the supply line to Torres was limited as a result. Frank Lampard's influence was never exerted. After playing 90 minutes for England in midweek, he looked short of being able to impose himself.
Rangers, meanwhile, were the stronger in the central area for much of the second half. Alejandro Faurlin's injury was costly last season, but now the Argentinian's partnership with Esteban Granero in midfield shows promise. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Park were the recipients of their precise passing, though both the wing pair showed off their propensity for snatching at chances. Park, in particular, should have done better when Granero had provided him with a clear header that was directed straight at Petr Cech.
In defence, Ferdinand, the target of Chelsea abuse as loud as that Terry received, had as fine a game as his avowed enemy. Torres had one of those afternoons when nothing comes off, and his head goes down. That Torres slunk off, also not offering a handshake, this time to Roberto Di Matteo, owed much to the strength of Ferdinand's central defensive partnership with Ryan Nelsen.
Hazard soon blazed the best chance of the match over in the 87th minute when Branislav Ivanovic's cross had evaded everyone save for the Belgian. The jeers for his miss were almost as loud as for Terry's injury. The honours were to be shared, even if hands of friendship had not been extended by all parties.
Terry, with something of a limp, ended his afternoon by loping over to clap the Chelsea fans before being booed down the tunnel by those in hoops. Just as before, and for much of the game itself, it looked as if nothing could trouble him.