Chelsea emerged, exhilaratingly, as London's one hope for a major trophy this season when two goals in the final 10 minutes of a hectic FA Cup quarter-final replay last night earned a meeting with the team who beat them in the 1994 final, Manchester United.
A majestic header from Michael Duberry tipped a fluctuating match decisively in their favour in the 80th minute. Four minutes later, Mark Hughes rounded off their night by tapping home a third goal after a run and cross from the left by Ruud Gullit.
It was the last of many inspirational interventions from the 33-year- old Dutchman. That he had so much running in him at the end of a gruelling match on a heavy pitch was nothing short of a marvel, given that he had been a doubtful starter because of flu. According to Chelsea's manager, Glenn Hoddle, Gullit had spent the afternoon "coughing and spluttering'' at the team hotel.
Dan Petrescu, Chelsea's Romanian international, gave them a 20th-minute lead with an acutely angled shot into the roof of the net after Craig Burley's pass had played him inside Wimbledon's left-back, Alan Kimble.
When Petrescu, freed once again by Burley, was brought down in the box by Kimble, the opportunity was there for Dennis Wise effectively to settle the match. But the former Wimbledon player gave Neil Sullivan too much of a chance with his shot.
On such incidents do matches often turn, and when Jon Goodman glanced home an equaliser seven minutes from half-time following Efan Ekoku's cross, some of the visiting players may have started reflecting upon a discomforting statistic - in their previous seven attempts under Hoddle Chelsea had beaten Wimbledon only once.
The match teetered excitingly until Duberry's crowning moment, as he rose to meet John Spencer's cross following a short corner from Wise. When Gullit and Hughes combined shortly afterwards, the Chelsea contingent within a 21,000 crowd exploded into relieved acclamation of a third major semi-final in successive seasons - FA Cup, European Cup-Winners' Cup, FA Cup. Chelsea appear on the brink of something big.
Wimbledon (4-3-3): Sullivan; Cunningham (Castledine, 85), Blackwell, Perry, Kimble; Earle, Jones, Leonhardsen; Goodman, Ekoku, Harford (Gayle, 85). Substitute not used: Thorn.
Chelsea (3-5-2): Hitchcock; Clarke, Duberry Lee, Clarke; Petrescu, Gullit (Furlong, 86), Burley, Wise, Phelan; Spencer (Peacock, 85), Hughes. Substitute not used: Johnsen.
Referee: G Poll (Tring).Reuse content