John Mikel Obi shouldered the blame for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s opener in Paris and was relieved to make amends by grabbing what could prove a crucial away goal for Chelsea.
Forced in from close range after a corner, it was his first for more than a year and only his sixth in a decade at the Stamford Bridge.
It gave the Londoners a sliver of hope to cling to after the 2-1 defeat at Paris St Germain in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie – and confirmed his new lease of life under new boss Guus Hiddink.
‘I had to get one for the team,’ said Mikel. ‘It was good to score. The first goal was a big deflection from me and my foul that I committed.
‘I had to make the foul because he was going deeper and deeper into the box. And I know I had to make a challenge, either to get the ball or foul him, but then the deflection was a big one.
‘So, it was my foul, I got booked and then the deflection. So it was three things. But we came back strong and I got the equaliser back, which was great.
‘Hopefully this goal keeps us alive in the tie and we believe we can do it. We were disappointed losing the second goal. I thought we deserved more. But we can get a very good result at home, which can see us through. We’re still alive.’
Mikel has enjoyed a revival since Hiddink returned to replace Jose Mourinho in December. He likes the style of the 69-year-old Dutchman and credits him with restoring calm to the Premier League champions after a dreadful start to the season.
‘We’ve been through a difficult period, no doubt about it,’ said the 28-year-old Nigerian. ‘But Guus has come in and settled the ship and now we’re picking up results, doing really well back home in the league.
‘This was the first game under Guus in the Champions League and we’re still very much in the tie.
‘The second leg is going to be massive and hopefully this away goal is going to be decisive. If we get a 1-0 win, we’re through. We have to believe we can do it and believe in what we’re doing with Guus.’
Signed by Mourinho in 2006, he has played under eight different managers and two of them twice.
‘I’ve seen them all,’ said Mikel. ‘Guus has come in again and settled things. Players feels free to play and free to have responsibility and thrive on responsibility but do it in a very relaxed way, which is sometimes what players need.
‘Guus has come in and done that. We’re picking up results in the league and we’re very much in this tie.’
His renaissance under Hiddink improves the outlook for his own future at Chelsea, where he is under contract until 2017. He was heavily linked with a move to Turkey or the United Arab Emirates last summer but his decision to stay has been rewarded.
He was the man charged with protecting the back-four against PSG’s potent attacking unit.
‘It feels great to be back in the team,’ said Mikel. ‘Sometimes it is disappointing not to be part of the team, not to play but I’ve always been professional.
‘I never speak out, I never get upset, I carry on doing my job, coming to training every day to train with the guys who are playing.
‘This is football. In one second it changes. I’ve always believed in myself and kept doing what I was doing and Guus came in and has given me the opportunity, and hopefully that will continue.
‘It is my 10th season at the club since 2006. Maybe I’ll get a testimonial soon.’
After defeat in Paris, Chelsea turn to the big FA Cup clash of the weekend, on Sunday against Manchester City, with Manuel Pellegrini expected to rest players ahead of a Champions League trip to Dynamo Kiev, next week.