In the 25th Volume of our weekly Classic Match series, we delve through the archives one more to relive a memorable West Ham United clash from down the years, this time around, it involves Sunday afternoon’s Premier League opponents at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea.
Cast your minds back to the late summer of 2002, “Just Like a Pill” by Pink was at the very summit of the British Music Charts and an earthquake in Dudley in the Midlands had just rocked much of the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, in the world of football and more specifically, the Premier League, West Ham United were in their second season under the guidance of East London-born manager Glenn Roeder.
They had started the season in the worst possible fashion, however, sitting rock bottom of the division ahead of a trip to Stamford Bridge, having lost all of their previous six league matches.
Prior to the short journey to West London, the Hammers had most recently drawn 0-0 at home to Manchester City, meanwhile, Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea were enjoying the opposition fortunes.
Before the London derby, the Blues were unbeaten in the Premiership, flying high with three victories to their name, despite a disappointing goalless draw away art arch rivals Fulham last time out.
With both teams enduring goalless drawer heading into the contest, not many were holding out for a thriller, but they got one and a surprise too, with the hosts going in as firm favourites, unsurprisingly.
The contest was to be played out on a mild Saturday afternoon at the Bridge with a capacity crowd through the doors and a strong away following from the Claret & Blue Army.
An hour prior to kick-off in the capital when the two teams were announced, the danger men in both home and away Xls could be clearly spotted the players with the capability to impact the game profoundly.
For Ranieri’s men, these included the likes of ex-Hammer and young England talent Frank Lampard and Icelandic winger Eidur Gudjohnsen and for Roeder’s side, names such as popular Italian striker Paolo Di Canio and his young apprentice Jermain Defoe fitted this billing.
Against the backdrop of an electric Stamford Bridge atmosphere, the clash could begin and the loud game supporters somewhat silenced by the early dominance of the Hammers.
The visitors easily could have and probably should have led inside the opening 20 minutes given the opportunities that they created, though it wasn’t to be, and the Blues soon dug their claws in.
Up until their opener, the home side barely had a look in and it took a long free-kick from the right and a youthful Robert Huth to be conspicuously shoved in the area despite his own handball to open it up.
Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot after the incident in controversial circumstances, meaning that prolific striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink stepped up to take.
The Dutch International made the spot-kick look easy by sending David James the wrong way and breaking the deadlock, at that moment, he would have hoped his side would be able to take control of the game.
However, things weren’t going to pan out that way with the Irons continuing to knock at the door in hope of it falling down for an equaliser, 18 minutes later, it did.
A corner delivery from the right eventually found its way to Northern Ireland International Steve Lomas in the 16-yard box, his scuff goalward landing on a plate for the starlet Defoe to fire into the roof of the net from close-range.
The strike stunned the Bridge and meant that the teams went in at half-time even Stevens and it was no less than the league’s rock-bottom side had deserved.
In fact, many were saying at the break that Roeder’s strugglers’ performance perhaps had even warranted the lead at the interval, ironically, they seized it a mere four minutes in the second-half.
A goal that would go down as one of the finest in English Top-Flight history from none other than Di Canio gave the East London side the lead in an iconic moment in West ham history.
The former Juventus star flicked the ball over a defender on the right side and kept it up with his right boot, unleashing a ferocious curling volley with his weaker foot that left Carlo Cudicini between the sticks with no chance whatsoever.
The moment of pure brilliance from the forward gave his team extra-confidence when looking to increase the advantage, but another Italian would have his say, future Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola.
The substitute said to Di Canio, “anything you can do…” and smashed a stunning 74th-minute free-kick into the left-hand top corner to almost take the roof off the stadium.
Zola wonder goal had not only levelled the scores, but also set up a frantic final 15 minutes of both teams going for the victory and chances being created at both ends.
Of those many opportunities, one of the trickier ones would breach a goal-line and fortunately for the Irons, it came in the Chelsea box and it could only be one man.
Some excellent battling from Defoe slipped Di Canio in on the left side with only Cudicini to beat from a very tight angle, he went for broke and squeezed an effort past his fellow countryman at the near post.
The passion in Di Canio’s celebration sparked angry reactions from home supporters, although he had good reason to celebrate as his goal gave his team a rare triumph in West London.
Despite some nervy late moments, the Irons defended well and held on to the crucial three points, taking them off the bottom of the standings and damaging the hosts’ early title hopes.
The Blues would go on to endure a tricky season which involved no silverware in contrast to recent years and a fourth-place finish in the Premiership under Ranieri.
However, it would be an even worse campaign for the East Londoners under Roeder as they were relegated to the Championship with a record 42 points and caretaker manager Sir Trevor Brooking in charge at the death, although they did also beat the West Londoners at home to do the double.
But, one question remains to be answered, can David Moyes’ West Ham United record their first win at Stamford Bridge since 2002 when they come up against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea on Sunday afternoon in the Premier League, think you know? Be sure to find us on Twitter @MooreThanAClub to send in your early score predictions and join the pre-match discussion.