Danson quickly in form

Football: Chelsea 2 Coventry City 0
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The Independent Online
It may be "early doors", as Ruud Gullit observed, impishly borrowing one of Ron Atkinson's stock phrases, but Paul Danson has already recaptured last season's card-crazed consistency and is probably more likely to be around the top of the referees' retribution chart than Chelsea are to sustain their bright start.

When it came to reaching for red in 1995-96, Danson was a veritable Manchester United among the men in the middle, banishing six players in 19 Premiership matches as well as cautioning 74. He started the new campaign by failing to spot the cynical swing of a Derby elbow against Leeds (while characteristically booking that notorious rabble-rouser Ian Rush for pointing out the oversight), and continued in similar vein at Stamford Bridge.

Selective myopia, whereby the beneficiaries of a miscarriage of justice claim not to have seen the incident, is up there with the groin strain and sick-parrot syndrome in the inventory of football afflictions. That may explain why Frank Leboeuf and Gullit mysteriously missed Dan Petrescu's deliberate handball in the prelude to the goal effectively killed of Coventry. It cannot excuse Mr Danson or Grant Hegley, the assistant referee in question.

This is the new title by which we must refer to the humble old linesman. It implies greater responsibility, and its bearers no doubt hope it will lead to an improvement in levels of respect. On Saturday's evidence, the change will be no more meaningful than referring to dustmen as refuse disposal operatives.

Neither Mr Hegley, of Bishop's Stortford, nor his superior spotted the Romanian stick out a hand to prevent Steve Ogrizovic's throw from sending Eoin Jess on the counter-attack. Seconds later, with Coventry back under the pressure they thought they had relieved, Leboeuf headed in. The official's hearing turned out to be better than their eyesight, for in the ensuing furore Liam Daish was dismissed for foul and abusive language.

Daish, who was involved in the "Battle of Ancona" with Birmingham last year and was sent off playing for the Republic of Ireland this summer, is clearly no shrinking Sky Blue. However, his protestation of mistaken identity was hardly implausible in the circumstances; his suggestion that at least one of the officials ought to have seen what was transparent to 50,000 other eyes entirely reasonable.

The imbalance between the teams made it difficult to assess Chelsea's potential as title contenders. While Gianluca Vialli became the third of Gullit's imports to get on the score sheet, and Roberto Di Matteo proved himself a perceptive passer, doubts persist as to whether the Vialli-Mark Hughes partnership can deliver enough goals. The unsung Leboeuf has settled in best, although Coventry, even with 10 men, created chances.

The newcomers' greatest impact has arguably been in increasing competition for places and inspiring the more prosaic talents around them. Dennis Wise displayed overdue signs of maturity and his half-pint-sized protege Jody Morris rare promise, while Steve Clarke showed in setting up Vialli's volley that bringing the ball out from the back is an option for journeyman defenders as well as Continentals.

Coventry, having been spared by Hughes' wastefulness, were just started to hit their stride when the roof fell in. That they never looked like being overrun was largely due to Gary McAllister, whose commitment demonstrated that age (nearly 32) and prosperity (salary reputedly twice what he earned at Leeds) need not make the good player less hungry.

One point out of nine, leaving Coventry with four wins in 21 Premiership fixtures this year, might suggest that the Scotland captain was hasty in his choice of club. Yet while it would undeniably have been fascinating to see him in, say, the side Gullit is developing, Atkinson's team look equipped to entertain and survive. It is never too soon, alas, for Danson in the dark, but Coventry are past masters at escaping early trapdoors.

Goals: Leboeuf (29) 1-0; Vialli (74) 2-0.

Chelsea (3-5-2): Kharin; Johnsen, Leboeuf, Clarke; Petrescu, Wise, Di Matteo, Morris (Burley, h-t), Myers (Minto, 66); Hughes, Vialli. Substitutes not used: Duberry, Nicholls, Hitchcock (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Genaux, Shaw, Daish, Burrows; Telfer, McAllister, Jess (Williams, 79), Salako; Dublin, Whelan (Ducros, 79). Substitutes not used: Borrows, Strachan, Filan (gk).

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).

Bookings: Chelsea: Johnsen, Clarke, Leboef. Coventry: Burrows, Daish, McAllister, Ogrizovic. Sending-off: Daish.

Man of the Match: Leboeuf. Attendance: 25,024.