Football: Bantams' bravery is not sufficient

Chelsea 1 Bradford City 0
FOR NEIL REDFEARN, that full-hearted chaser of lost causes, the season must be taking an uncomfortably familiar hue.

With Charlton and Barnsley the past two seasons, he suffered countless narrow defeats in which his team were praised for their efforts only to find that when the thick black line was drawn above the bottom three sides in May, he was on the wrong side of it. Sadly for all romantics, a hat- trick seems more likely than not.

Yesterday's game at Stamford Bridge was typical, if not quite the hard luck story that Redfearn's latest manager, Paul Jewell, claimed to have experienced. "It was an outstanding performance, the players were absolutely magnificent and we matched them in every department," Jewell said. The visitors certainly deserved A for effort but without that there is little point in their turning up at venues like this. All they can hope for is to catch teams like Chelsea on an off day and then benefit from a fat slice of luck.

In the case of Gianluca Vialli's team, off days tend to occur immediately after excellent performances in European games, so there was hope on that score following the demolition of Feyenoord in midweek. This time Chelsea did just enough to avoid a repetition of defeats by Bradford's fellow strugglers Watford and Derby and to earn the appreciation of the manager, who put any limitations down to their opponents' approach.

"It takes two to tango," Vialli said in his increasingly idiomatic English. "It's very difficult to play great football when the other team just come here to defend with 10 men behind the ball. It happens all the time."

For a long while his team had made chances only from Gianfranco Zola's corners. Gustavo Poyet, captain for the day in the absence of Dennis Wise, headed an early one onto the roof of the net and in the 15th minute, a flag kick of lower trajectory was volleyed smartly in by Tore Andre Flo.

That should have freed the game from its claustrophobia but not until they had reached the interval without suffering further damage did Bradford feel confident enough to commit men forward. Soon after the interval Andrew O'Brien's header forced Ed de Goey into rare activity, tipping the ball for another corner.

Pushing forward inevitably led to Chelsea in general and Zola in particular being given more room for manoeuvre. The little Sardinian had a header superbly parried by Matt Clarke, who had been moving the wrong way; then Zola escaped onto a pass down the right by Bjarne Goldbaek, a substitute for the wounded Dan Petrescu, and lobbed onto the crossbar.

The goalkeeper's left hand also denied Poyet and Flo, though the latter's header from a perfect cross by Zola appeared to be over the line. For all Jewell's pride at his team's gameness, a couple of other straightforward headers for De Goey to deal with were all they could manage offensively, even as Chelsea grew a little edgy towards the finish in seeking a first Premiership victory in six games.

"I now believe we are back on track," Vialli said. "We were all fed up with our recent inconsistency so we tried hard to put it right. After two draws, this win is important for morale and confidence."

Goal: Flo (15) 1-0.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Hogh, Desailly, Babayaro; Petrescu (Goldbaek, 28), Deschamps, Morris, Poyet; Flo, Zola. Substitutes not used: Di Matteo, Lambourde, Dalla Bona, Cudicini (gk).

Bradford City (4-5-1): Clarke; Halle, Wetherall, O'Brien, Myers; Lawrence, Redfearn, Windass, Whalley (Blake, 68), Beagrie; Mills (Rankin, 89). Substitutes not used: Westwood, Dreyer, Taylor (gk).

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Bookings: Chelsea: Deschamps.

Man of the match: Zola.

Attendance: 31,519.