THE DECLINING domestic fortunes of Chelsea and West Ham were reflected in a game lacking for the most part in both quality and incident at Stamford Bridge yesterday.
Three successive Premiership defeats in between progressing in the Champions' League had cost Chelsea a lot of ground, which they failed to make up on a day when Leeds and Arsenal slipped. Since their chairman, Ken Bates, was quoted yesterday as saying that domestic games are more important than those against "some obscure foreign club" (Lazio? Milan?), he must have shared the frustration of the home supporters in a crowd close to capacity.
West Ham, dismissed from the Uefa Cup last Thursday and beaten in their six previous away games, seem to be treading water until some of their injured players are fit again. A shortage of full-backs has not hampered them unduly, though they will now be without the Chilean central defender Javier Margas for one match after he was sent off near the end. More serious is the absence of Paolo di Canio, badly missed again even if Trevor Sinclair was a willing runner up front with the characteristically unpredictable Paulo Wanchope.
Harry Redknapp, never slow to talk up his team's prospects, insisted: "I think we're as good as anyone outside the top four." There was little evidence of that, but a niggling local derby was probably not the best occasion on which to judge, even with Joe Cole given a full game on the eve of his 18th birthday. Cole produced a nice turn or two but was soon sucked into the morass, to the extent of being booked for diving.
Rio Ferdinand, 21 today, was outstanding in repelling Chelsea's attacks so thoroughly that Craig Forrest, deputising for the suspended Shaka Hislop, did not have any more to do than catch crosses and kick clearances until the 43rd minute. He then held Jody Morris's 30-yard drive, only to be beaten just after the interval: Wanchope saved him by clearing Tore Andre Flo's header off the line.
As Chelsea took control for the first time, Dan Petrescu glanced a header wide and had a shot beaten out by Forrest. The introduction of the Italian winger, Gabriele Ambrosetti, to provide some real width - Dennis Wise, like Chris Sutton, was serving a ban for previous indiscretions - had little effect until one late cross for Didier Deschamps, who volleyed over.
West Ham, meanwhile, had produced only a couple of centres that Wanchope failed to reach even with his elastic limbs, and right at the finish a free-kick by Frank Lampard was deflected away with Ed de Goey flat-footed. They lost Margas, who had been booked early on, for unwisely stretching an arm across Deschamps - one of eight occasions on which Mike Riley felt obliged to flourish his yellow card.
Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Leboeuf, Desailly, Babayaro; Petrescu, Morris, Deschamps, Poyet; Flo, Zola (Ambrosetti, 68). Substitutes not used: Di Matteo, Lambourde, Forsell, Cudicini (gk)
West Ham United: (3-5-2): Forrest; Stimac, Ferdinand, Margas; Lomas, Lampard, Foe, Cole (Ruddock, 87), Keller; Sinclair, Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Charles, Kitson, Moncur, Bywater (gk).
Referee: M. Riley (Leeds).
Sending-off: West Ham: Margas. Bookings: Chelsea: Leboeuf, Poyet, Ferrer. West Ham: Stimac, Lomas, Cole, Margas.
Man of the match: Ferdinand.
Attendance: 34,935.Reuse content