c Casiraghi hurt as Chelsea dominate

West Ham United 1 Chelsea 1
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JUST THREE days after their latest successful sortie in Europe, Chelsea earned a suitable reward for their domestic endeavour yesterday - although a shot two minutes from time by Eyal Berkovic which bounced away off the inside of the post almost provided the home side with a victory which would have been absurd on the balance of play.

Chelsea's gains, however, were balanced by the loss of their most recent signing, Pierluigi Casiraghi, who was carried from the field in the 21st minute in obvious pain with what appeared to be a serious knee ligament injury.

Casiraghi, 31, who arrived at Stamford Bridge from Lazio this summer for pounds 5.4m, was taken straight to hospital following a collision involving Rio Ferdinand and West Ham keeper Shaka Hislop which had players from both sides gesturing urgently to the referee to stop play. Amid all the blatant fakery that goes on, there is no mistaking a bad injury.

Chelsea, of course, have another Italian international forward fit and ready to step into the brink. Last night their player-manager Gianluca Vialli announced with the ghost of a smile that, if required, he was available for selection. He may be in the line-up at Arsenal on Wednesday in the Worthington Cup - a competition he has already enjoyed hugely this season, having scored a hat-trick in the last round against Aston Villa.

West Ham were given an ideal start by their centre-back Neil Ruddock, whose fourth minute shot following a short free-kick on the right curved round the oncoming Dennis Wise and found its way inside the right-hand post of Chelsea's keeper Ed De Goey. Even at 6ft 6in, the Dutchman had no chance of getting a hand to it. Frank Lampard and Paul Kitson might have increased the lead as Chelsea made what Vialli later described as a sloppy start. But if they began slackly, then finished awesomely.

There was a curious sound in the air for much of the second half - the kind of murmur that one imagines might have preceded public executions during the French Revolution. As the bulk of the 26,023 crowd awaited the inevitable with something akin to subdued acceptance, the cutting blade of Chelsea's passing game gathered speed.

At a club which has long enjoyed the nickname of The Academy, it was the guests who provided the lesson - their team balance, their movement, their use of the ball was relentless, accomplished, and in the end demoralising.

Gianfranco Zola, Gustavo Poyet, and Tore Andre Flo all came close to scoring, the latter with a drive which produced a reflex save of the highest quality after 64 minutes from the unsighted Hislop.

Contact was finally made in the 75th minute, although the deed itself was messy. A corner from the right by Wise precipitated a melee which saw Mark Nicholls head against the bar before Celestine Babayaro darted in at the far post to force home an equaliser which had appeared likely from the very first minute of the second half.

Vialli, however, was insistent that his players should treat the occasion as a learning experience. "It must be a lesson to us that if we start like that, in future we may get nothing. For the first 20 minutes we were thinking what a great team we were because we had got through against Copenhagen on Thursday. But you cannot relax in football."

Nobody is likely to do that this season against Chelsea, with, or more likely without, Pierluigi Casiraghi

West Ham United (3-5-2) Hislop; Pearce, Ferdinand, Ruddock; Sinclair, Lampard, Lomas, Berkovic (Potts, 89), Keller; Wright, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Sealey (gk), Breacker, Abou, Omoyimni.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Lambourde, Desailly, Le Saux; Wise, Poyet, Di Matteo (Petrescu, h-t), Babayaro; Zola (Nicholls, 66), Casiraghi (Flo, 21min). Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Terry.

Referee: G Barber (Tring).