Chelsea begin life under Frank Lampard with a low-key draw against Irish side Bohemians FC.
In front of two empty stands and under grey Dublin clouds, Frank Lampard stood as Chelsea head coach for the first time on Wednesday night.
But the gloomy surroundings and a last-gasp Bohemians equaliser did not dim the affection from the Blues supporters for their returning hero.
Make no mistake, in the eyes of the fans, this is Lampard’s Chelsea. Big-name players and even owner Roman Abramovich are now part of the supporting cast rather than the main act.
The first English manager of the Abramovich era begins his career as the most popular, even though Lampard did his best to make an understated start to life in the Chelsea dug-out and Michy Batshuayi’s opener was cancelled out in the 89th minute by trialist Eric Molloy.
There was no expensive suit or over-the-top reaction to the chants from the stands. Lampard, dressed in a tracksuit, was in Ireland to start work.
So modest was the setting for his first game as a head coach (Frank Lampard) against League of Ireland club Bohemians that Chelsea was given the home team’s dressing-room and the players’ bar in which to change ahead of kick-off.
There was plenty of chance for redemption in Lampard’s first starting line-up, which included Batshuayi, Danny Drinkwater and Kenedy, three players deemed unwanted by former head coach Maurizio Sarri.
Batshuayi opened the scoring after eight minutes in Dublin. Drinkwater did not make a single competitive appearance last season, despite remaining at Stamford Bridge, while Batshuayi and Kenedy were both sent out on loan.
It was Kenedy, with a deflected attempted shot, who set up Batshuayi to score the first goal of Lampard’s reign from close range after just eight minutes.
Lampard had insisted that he would offer all of his players clean slate and he remained good to his word, with teenager Ethan Ampadu, barely used by Sarri, partnering Drinkwater in a holding midfield two.
Ampadu was clearly determined to try to make an early impression as he pressed high and aggressively, just as Lampard demanded of his Derby County team last season.
Drinkwater showed plenty of endeavours and picked out a couple of smart passes, but just 30 minutes of football in the Community Shield under Sarri also told during his 45 minutes of action.
Sending his team out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Lampard’s hand was forced to some extent by the staggering return of his first-players, some of whom, including new arrival Christian Pulisic, have still not met up with the squad.
Antonio Rudiger, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who spent the day at Wimbledon, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James are all recovering from injuries, while N’Golo Kante has been training on his own since meeting up with the squad in Dublin on Monday.
Following his players into the dilapidated 3,800-capacity venue, which is due to be knocked down and replaced by a shopping centre, Lampard gave a low-key wave to those inside Dalymount Park singing his name.
Chairman Bruce Buck was accompanied by a steward holding an umbrella over his head to keep off the rain and technical and performance advisor Petr Cech, who sat with the directors, was also present.
Tiemoue Bakayoko was among the players back in a Chelsea shirt after being discarded by the previous manager.
All of the Chelsea staff, including administrative personnel, wore the same club tracksuits, underlining the new feeling of unity brought about by Lampard’s return and the appointment of a backroom staff full of Blues history.
Assistant Jody Morris, first-team coach Joe Edwards, fitness coach Chris Jones and goalkeeping coach Hilario were all in the dug-out with Lampard, but largely remained seated while the 41-year-old stood with his hands in his pockets in the technical area.
He threw his arms in frustration at a couple of missed passes and referee decisions and barked orders as he strayed far out of his technical area when Chelsea was on the attack.
Lampard clutched his notes as he walked across the turf at half-time, but he and a group of players were back out on the pitch barely 10 minutes later.
Rather than using the break to deliver a dressing-room speech, Lampard watched his second-half team warm-up and Edwards huddled the players together for an on-pitch team-talk as Chelsea made 11 changes.
Tiemoue Bakayoko, who spent last season on loan at AC Milan, replaced Drinkwater, while Kurt Zouma, who has spent two seasons away from Chelsea, at Stoke City and Everton, came into the centre of defence.
Midfielder Bakayoko almost doubled Chelsea’s lead early in the second half, while Billy Gilmour forced a fine save from Bohemians goalkeeper James Talbot.
Substitute Molloy denied Lampard the first victory in charge of Chelsea, but it did not really matter to the travelling fans who had their “I was there” moment.
By John Dalton Kigozi