Chelsea’s Terry scores in first start since September as 22-year tenure with team nears triumphant end

AP

Scrambling in his first Chelsea goal in 485 days.

Blundering to gift an equalizer less than two minutes later.

If this is how John Terry’s 22-year association with Chelsea ends, it was a memorable sign-off against Watford on Monday. Not perfection, but that wouldn’t be in keeping with the 36-year-old defender’s career of dizzying highs and notorious lows.

And by next week, this stalwart of English soccer could be hanging up his boots for good, rather than searching for one final challenge away from Chelsea.

“I know I said I wanted to play regular football,” Terry said after the newly crowned English champions’ 4-3 victory over Watford, “but I have not ruled out Sunday being my last game and retiring.

“It depends if the right offer comes along. I will sit and consider it with my family, whether it’s here or abroad. But, genuinely, I haven’t made any decisions yet.”

He’s had much time to think about his next steps from the bench this season.

“I never wanted to be that player just hanging about that people can’t wait to get rid of or stopping the progress of a younger player coming through,” Terry said.

Only with the Premier League title already sealed was Terry restored to the heart of a defense he commanded for so many seasons, before age finally proved his greatest opponent. He was back on the field wearing the captain’s armband from kickoff for the first time in the league in eight months.

Terry wasn’t going to waste his moment back in the Stamford Bridge spotlight and he wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to make it 17 consecutive top-flight seasons with a goal.

Not when it could be his last appearance, unless he keeps his place for Sunday’s league finale against Sunderland, when Terry will lift the Premier League trophy for the fifth time.

After 22 minutes against Watford, the defender showed he hasn’t lost his instinct for goal. After Willian floated a corner into the penalty area, the ball fell to Terry and he nudged it over the line with a scuffed shot for his 67th Chelsea goal.

Manager Antonio Conte, whose decision to jettison Terry from the team has been justified by the title triumph, shared in his delight on the touchline — mouthing his captain’s name to his coaching staff.

On the field, Terry celebrated wildly, but perhaps too much. The game had barely restarted when Watford drew level within two minutes. The culprit: Terry. A defensive header looped backward into the path of Etienne Capoue who slotted past goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.

But Cesar Azpilicueta’s crisp drive restored Chelsea’s lead.

Michy Batshuayi, who scored the title-clinching goal at West Bromwich Albion on Friday, put Chelsea 3-1 up, but Daryl Janmaat pulled a goal back with a superb strike.

And Watford substitute Stefano Okaka equalized after holding off Terry before Fabregas’ decisive 88th-minute strike.

Sebastian Prodl was sent off for a second bookable offence in the second minute of stoppage time as Watford finished the contest with 10 men in a bad-tempered conclusion.

Watford is already sure off its Premier League status heading into Sunday’s final game against Liverpool.

And yet nothing was going to dampen the adulation of the fans whose banner proclaims Terry as their “Captain. Leader. Legend.”

It will take some shifting if any supporter thinks of removing the stadium tribute to the man who has been the bedrock of the west London club’s resurgence since the injection of cash since 2003 from Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Aptly, Terry’s goal on Monday was the 1,000th of the Abramovich era that has seen Chelsea become a superpower of soccer.

“If I could have written my story as a 14-year-old, when I signed on the pitch, this would have been it,” Terry told fans in Monday’s matchday magazine. “Thank you to everyone from the bottom of my heart. I have received so many messages and letters of support thanking me for what I have done at Chelsea, but I’m the lucky one and without you all my dreams wouldn’t have been possible.”

The supporters have stood by Terry in the difficult times too. When he was fined with three Chelsea teammates for insulting Americans in a London airport hotel on Sept. 11, 2011. When he was stripped of the England captaincy in 2010 ahead of the World Cup over accusations he had an affair with the former girlfriend of then-teammate Wayne Bridge. And when he had the captain’s armband he had regained stripped again in 2012 over a racism case that led to a four-game ban.

There have been lows on the pitch, notably in the 2008 Champions League final shootout loss to Manchester United when Terry missed a penalty. Terry did finally win the Champions League four years later, but he was suspended for the final against Bayern Munich and was mocked for changing in his kit — shinpads and all — to collect the trophy.

But lifting cups has been second nature for Terry, captain during the most successful period in the 112-year-old club’s history. The title haul could still reach 16 if Chelsea beats Arsenal in the F.A. Cup final on May 27 to sign out with a double.

“I just love winning and that’s been great for me over my career,” Terry said in an interview with former England teammates Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher after completing 90 minutes against Watford. “I’ve had my time.”