Jose Mourinho believes there is plenty of room for improvement in his Chelsea side, yet the manager is not surprised that his side are within reach of the Barclays Premier League summit on Christmas Day. “Every game is very hard. The distances (between clubs in the table) they open and they close, they open, they close. “Of course we go there to try to win and we go there with the objective of being top of the league, but if we don’t, I don’t think it’s crucial.” Mourinho recognised Palace could trouble his side, who continued to lack the ruthless streak City have demonstrated at home despite extending their own formidable record at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are now unbeaten in 16 league matches at home, as Mourinho’s record was extended to 68 undefeated. The Portuguese added: “I was expecting an easy victory; I was expecting big problems. I was ready for both things. “When I was reading the game and analysing the situation I was feeling the game could go in both directions. “You score a goal that kills the opponent, 2-0 or 3-1, the game is over and you can go to a different result. “When you don’t do that, I knew they were a team who would give problems. “For me, this result could be 5-1, could be 2-2.” Palace have now won two of Tony Pulis’ four matches in charge to return to the pack after appearing likely to be cast adrift. Pulis said: “To be in the game for 94 minutes is testament to the commitment and the effort. “The important thing is that the lads keep believing that we have got a chance and that we keep playing with that spirit and commitment.” The former Stoke boss reserved special praise for the Palace goalscorer. “I thought when we got it to Chamakh we played some good stuff,” Pulis added. “Chamakh slows it down for us, gets a pass off and gives us time to get runners up the pitch. “(Yannick) Bolasie came on and was a threat, (Jason) Puncheon was a threat and Cameron Jerome was smashing. There’s a threat there.” Contrary to outside perceptions, Chamakh has applied himself well under Pulis. The Welshman added: “The lads have bought into what we’re trying to do. The most important thing is to galvanise a spirit within a football club. “Marouane has bought into that. You’ve seen the quality, he’s a top player. Wenger doesn’t buy players who can’t play. The kid can play. “It’s helped, I think, that he’s been given the responsibility to play just off the striker, where he’s got more room and space and he hasn’t got his back to play all the time.” Press Association Chelsea made hard work of a 2-1 win over relegation-threatened Crystal Palace after Fernando Torres’ opener was cancelled out by Marouane Chamakh, with Ramires netting what proved to be the winner in the first half. Mourinho’s men are now within two points of leaders Arsenal, who lost at Manchester City earlier on Saturday, and can assume the Premier League lead by winning at the Emirates Stadium on December 23. Mourinho, who watched most of the second half of the match at the Etihad Stadium prior to kick-off at Stamford Bridge, said: “I’m not surprised because it’s our nature. It’s in this club’s DNA over the years to try to fight for trophies. “It’s my way of work, too; it’s the mentality we want the players to have. “We all know that this is a transitional period, we all know that we have just a few players from the winning side from the past. We all know we have lots of young talent to improve. “I believe in another club with a different profile everybody would say ‘okay, let’s work and wait calmly, the results will come in the near future’. “We are not like that. We want to build, but at the same time we want to fight for titles. And in this moment in the Premier League we are there, two points behind the leader in a group that is there.” Whether Chelsea do assume pole position by Christmas is not significant, according to the Portuguese. “It’s not important,” Mourinho said. “In this league to be top of the league by December or even by the end of January, I don’t think is crucial. I think this will be open till very, very late.
The Belfast Giants are the Devils’ nearest challengers in the table after a 5-2 win over the Dundee Stars and they also have three games in hand. Lou Dickenson opened the scoring for the Stars but Mike Radja levelled things up before the end of the first period and James Desmarais and Michael Forney gave the Giants some breathing space in the middle session. Player-coach Derrick Walser made it 4-1 midway through the third and, while Mikael Lidhammar got one back for the Stars, Radja had the final say. Press Association An upset looked on the cards at the end of the first period as bottom-of-the-league Storm raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Mathew Sisca and Ricards Birzinsh. But Tomas Kurka grabbed a goal back in the second and the Devils ran away with it in the final stanza thanks to goals from Andrew Hotham, Jake Morissette, Carl Hudson and Chris Culligan. The Cardiff Devils moved six points clear at the top of the Elite League after they came from behind to beat the Manchester Storm 5-2.
While most Badger fans were glued to their TVs this past weekend, I was busy making an eight-hour trek to North Dakota. At least I think that’s where I was — driving to the city of Grand Forks, I got the feeling I was driving through Eastern Europe.I made the drive because I have wanted to make that road trip ever since I began covering the Badger men’s hockey team. But more specifically, I wanted to see how Wisconsin fared on the road at the palace that is the Ralph Engelstad Arena.I was not disappointed in either of these aspects — if the Badgers can play that well on the road against a tough rival team they are going to be scary, and the Ralph, with its gigantic relic organ and wide array of bubble hockey games, is just one moat short of a castle.But the trip also strengthened my opinion that the Badger hockey faithful are the best college hockey fans in the country.Prior to the weekend, my only hockey road trips had been to Albany, N.Y., and Grand Rapids, Mich., for the NCAA tournaments the past two years. It was the national tournament, of course fans were going to be there.But I didn’t know what to expect at North Dakota, so I didn’t really anticipate a whole lot. Boy was I surprised.Whether it was my wide eyes at seeing the Ralph for the first time, or my strengthened focus due to a tighter deadline, I didn’t really notice it Friday night, but the Badger fan base — relegated to an upper corner of the arena — was both amazing and amusing to me when I took notice Saturday.Thanks to three first-period goals by the Badgers, the Sioux fans were stunned and silent. Take note, however, that North Dakota could have been up 3-0 and its fans might have been half as loud as a Kohl Center crowd with UW trailing 5-0 late in the game.When one of the guys keeping official stats at the game told me that the stadium was great, but that the fans weren’t quite up to speed, that may have been the understatement of the year.Regardless, when the Badger fans started out with a hearty chant of “Lets go red” in the first period, their voices rung out louder than the North Dakota fans.I would compare it to two high school student sections arguing over who has more spirit. You know what I’m talking about. One section starts the chant and the other section doesn’t respond and the first section thinks it’s hilarious. So they do it again, and usually on the third try, the second section responds and yada, yada, yada …But I digress — the Badger fans got at least three “Let’s go red”s in before the Sioux student section realized what was going on and tried to muffle it with “Let’s go Sioux.”That was only the beginning.Other chants, after the fourth goal, included “Robbie Earl,” “1, 2, 3, 4 We want more … ,” and my — and the Badgers’– favorite: “We want ice cream.””We could hear the ice cream [chant] … that was pretty funny,” senior winger Ryan MacMurchy said.In case you don’t know, if the Badgers score five goals in a win at the Kohl Center, all fans in attendance get free Culver’s ice cream.Let’s just say that the small corner section would have made the student section’s father-figure, Phil, quite proud.The fans were loud and they were tasteful — something lacking in student sections such as the one at Badger football games.But while Wisconsin football fans are notorious for being a good traveling fan base, it’s time the hockey fans got some credit.The Kohl Center fans are one thing. Wisconsin continually has not only the largest crowd — numbers aren’t everything, as North Dakota showed — but I would venture to say the largest and most electric crowd in the country.To take that energy on the road and out-yell the hometown crowd is another.The players know how important the fans are.”There’s no doubt about it that Wisconsin Badger fans are the best in the country,” MacMurchy said. “It’s just so great playing at home because you know they’re going to be into it the whole game. It’s never kind of dead like it is [other places] sometimes.”Our fans are the best part about our team, and when you hear them in an away rink it makes us smile inside and keeps us going.”If the Badgers can continue to play like they are, come tournament time teams are going to be in trouble. Not only will this team be a threat on the ice, it will have a threat off of it.If a few dozen cheering fans can ring through on the road more than eight hours away, think about the environment that opposing teams will face if the Badgers go to the Green Bay regional of the NCAA tournament or the Frozen Four at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.It’s something that teams across the country can only hope they don’t have to think about.