Barnsley 0 Chelsea 6
For all the romanticism gilded on to Barnsley's elevation into the Premiership, harsh reality suggested their first brush with England's elite could end unhappily. They might confound expectation, as they have done regularly in recent years, but yesterday there was an unmistakable impression of problems coming home to roost.
Four goals from Gianluca Vialli ripped the heart out of the home side, who looked what everyone outside South Yorkshire predicted they would be this season: outclassed. Bothered, bewildered and finally demoralised by Chelsea, who were a joy to watch, you wonder what repercussions this will have for self-belief at Oakwell.
For 20 minutes Emmerdale lived with the King's Road - indeed, Barnsley had the better chances - but once Dan Pestrescu and Gustavo Poyet had put the Londoners ahead, Vialli's demolition of an eager but naive defence was almost cruel.
"I'm sure they feel shell shocked," Danny Wilson, the Barnsley manager, said of his players. "We had a lesson today, they toyed with us at times in the second half. It brings us down to earth a little bit." With a crash.
Chelsea had to reconstruct their defence beforehand due to Frank Leboeuf's stomach upset but if it was static initially their movement further ahead was a wonder and, having ridden their luck, Chelsea pulled Barnsley apart with three goals in 19 minutes. From defence to attack the ball was propelled with breakneck speed, leaving the home players breathless and confused.
The first arrived after 25 minutes and, for all Petrescu's clinical finishing, he was helped by the inadequacies of the Barnsley defence. Nicky Eaden had a chance to clear with a header and failed, Adrian de Zeeuw swung a boot and missed, so that the Romanian could drag the ball back and then find the net with a shot off a post.
The home defence had been present if incorrect for the first goal; they disappeared for the second 12 minutes later. Vialli and Gianfranco Zola dragged their markers to the near post so that Poyet was on his own when Frank Sinclair's cross from the right reached him. His header, powerful and downwards, was saved by Dave Watson but the Uruguayan stabbed in the rebound. You could see the confidence drip out of the Barnsley players, who found themselves further behind with a goal of stunning simplicity minutes before half-time. De Goey threw the ball to Petrescu, his pass was perfectly weighted and Vialli lashed the ball past Watson with a half- volley from the edge of the area.
At 3-0 down the best Barnsley could hope for was respectability but that eluded them. Vialli got his second and Chelsea's fourth, heading beyond Watson after the goalkeeper had saved his initial shot, and then completed his hat trick after Wise's quick feet had earned him space on the left of the area.
By now the Barnsley defence was in tatters and it duly presented Vialli with his fourth goal when Watson got tangled with his colleagues from Wise's corner. From eight yards out, in this form, the Italian could hardly miss.
Not bad for a player who could not get into the Chelsea first team last season. "It's a different Vialli this year," Ruud Gullit, the Chelsea player manager, said. "Sharp. He's stopped smoking, he's doing extra work, he's a real professional. Today he showed what a good player he is."