There was an unmistakable aura of confidence about Chelsea. After their dismantling of Middlesbrough a fortnight ago, it was suggested that they were at last a complete unit - a rare example in the Premiership of the team being finished before their stadium. The nonsense of this was demonstrated in their next match at Coventry, which, far from exhibiting the new Chelsea, showed the very old one, the inconsistent team that flatters to deceive.
But here they were again, back at Stamford Bridge, keeping possession and showing some disdain for West Ham's efforts to win it back. Just as importantly, on most of the occasions they lost the ball they tracked it down again with real purpose.
Their stride was barely put out by a sixth-minute injury to Eddie Newton - later diagnosed as a suspected broken shin - when he collided with his own goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock. It will be of scant consolation to Newton that Chelsea were hurrying to defend only because of a misdirected fancy pass in attack.
Within two minutes, regrouped, they were ahead. Ruud Gullit, a serene colossus in central midfield, released Paul Furlong who was equally adept in sending a ball through the centre to Gavin Peacock. Peacock raced in on two defenders, deceived them neatly with a change of pace, and drilled in a left-foot shot to Ludek Miklosko's right.
Rarely able to get the ball, West Ham were largely frustrated, but Chelsea had too few men forward to take significant advantage.
All this delightful possession yielded nothing more fruitful. West Ham, dumped out of the FA Cup at Grimsby, equalised from nowhere when Julian Dicks headed in the most precise of corners from Dani - conclusive proof that the Portuguese yougster is not just a pretty face. The balance having been restored, Chelsea faded rapidly. It was no surprise when Danny Williamson thumped a shot in from the right of the area to put the Hammers ahead, a lead they were rarely in danger of surrendering despite Gullit's continued prompting.Reuse content