Football: Sloppy Sinclair highlights home truths for Blues

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The Independent Online
Martin Lipton

Chelsea 1 Wimbledon 1

Harsh reality came in from the cold to cloud Chelsea's title dreams as Joe Kinnear's side spoiled the Stamford Bridge festivities.

Gianluca Vialli's early strike looked to have put his side on the winning trail again when he collected his 12th goal of the season after eight minutes. But a shocking error by Frank Sinclair was punished when Michael Hughes raced onto his woeful backpass to claim only his second goal since moving across London from West Ham.

Even Gianfranco Zola's introduction from the bench failed to lift Ruud Gullit's men to the victory they needed to keep the pressure on Manchester United and Blackburn. It meant that Chelsea have now dropped four points in their last two home matches after dropping just three out from their first 21.

And for Kinnear it was yet another example of how that Crazy Gang spirit can hold its own against clubs with far more resources. Not that this was one for the scrapbook. Far from it, in fact.

Given the history of bad blood between the teams, the lunchtime crowd might have expected a bit more passion in the opening stages. Instead, one creative moment from Tore Andre Flo aside, it was dreadful stuff, the two teams seemingly caught up in the post-Christmas hangover, with Sinclair, whose distribution was woeful, the worst culprit.

In the early stages, however, the two men drafted into Chelsea's side - Danny Granville and Flo - produced some good moments and were both involved as their side claimed the eighth-minute lead. Granville, in for Mark Nicholls with Graeme Le Saux pushed forward, played the ball up the left flank. Flo spun superbly to leave Dean Blackwell for dead, and his perfect pass was simply converted by Vialli.

A platform for something special perhaps, yet that was about as good as it got. Ed de Goey was barely employed, Wimbledon's decision to withdraw Hughes into a five-man midfield, leaving Marcus Gayle on his own up front, meaning they made very little headway.

Unfortunately for Sinclair and Chelsea, however, they did not need to, as Hughes reaped the benefit of the defender's blunder, rounding De Goey to stroke home in the 28th minute.

It was the first home league goal Chelsea had conceded in open play since Nigel Winterburn's thunderbolt for Arsenal in mid-September, and they did look to respond before the interval, Dan Petrescu and Le Saux combining to feed Roberto di Matteo, who forced a fine save from Neil Sullivan.

Vialli emerged with a bandage on his right hand at the start of the second half, and despite Chelsea dominating possession, Wimbledon seemed just as likely to score the next goal. Di Matteo shot over and Petrescu went wide, but it was Gayle who came closest, shrugging Granville aside before striking a left-footer into the side-netting.

Zola provided some spark for the Blues, Robbie Earle blocking one shot from the little Sardinian before he brought Sullivan to his knees with a left-footer, but most of the game was taking place in a congested midfield battle.

Wimbledon, with their young striker Carl Cort on for Gayle, still looked dangerous, even though Chelsea threw more and more men forward. Wise missed a sitter nine minutes from time - the flag was up in any event - and Leboeuf's speculative effort dropped on top of Sullivan's net. Yet the goal was not going to come, as Gullit's body language seemed to accept long before the end.

Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu, Leboeuf, Vialli (Zola, 61), Wise, Duberry, Le Saux, Di Matteo, Granville, Flo, Sinclair (S Clarke, 57). Substitutes not used: Lambourde, Hitchcock (gk), Nicholls.

Wimbledon: Sullivan, Cunningham, Kimble, Jones, Blackwell, Thatcher, Earle, Solbakken, Gayle (Cort, 67), M Hughes, Ardley. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Castledine, Jupp, A Clarke.

Referee: G S Willard (Worthing).

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