Football: Booth halts Chelsea charge

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 1

Zola 27

Sheffield Wednesday 1

Booth 67

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 34,451

IT WAS Tango's 36th birthday yesterday. Tango, for anyone who doesn't know or doesn't support Sheffield Wednesday, is the Owls' number one fan who bravely bares his tubby midriff to the elements on terraces up and down the country without ever seeming to feel the effects.

But he couldn't have imagined, given Chelsea's recent form, that he would be celebrating his latest excursion to the capital with a point on a ground where no one had managed a draw since Arsenal in early September. The fact that Wednesday managed to secure that point said much for the battling qualities of the Yorkshiremen who beat Manchester United on their last outing and are clearly improving.

Chelsea, it has to be said, were below their best although, apart from the first 15 minutes when Andy Booth should have scored for the visitors, they had enough chances to have had the game won by half-time.

It was during this period of domination that Chelsea scored, the evergreen Gianfranco Zola finishing off Celestine Babayaro's superb run and cross with a rare header at the far post. It was the Italian's seventh goal in 12 starts of a remarkable renaissance.

Pavel Srnicek kept Wednesday in the game with three smart saves as Chelsea went for the jugular. But there was no further addition to the first-half score as the sun set gloriously over west London in contrast to the rest of a grey afternoon.

Wednesday's small but noisy throng of supporters gave their team a ticker- tape welcome at the start of the second period although there was no sign of the colourful travelling band which, sadly, no longer appears to be permitted at most away grounds.

Booth missed an even better chance than his first-half effort, missing the target when clean through. But he made no mistake with his third opportunity, sliding the ball home after a misunderstanding in the Chelsea defence.

Both sides thereafter had chances to win the game and the Wednesday manager Danny Wilson swore his team should have had a penalty when Marcel Desailly appeared to handle just after the equaliser. "It was hand ball, there is no doubt about that," Wilson said. "There would have been a hell of a roar if it had been at the other end."

Despite failing to further close the gap at the top of the table, Chelsea stretched their unbeaten run to 19 games and Wilson said they looked certain championship material. "They have got to be serious contenders with the amount of talent they've got. You'd be naive to discount them."

The Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli conceded that there were bound to be hiccups somewhere along the line. "I always like my team to be perfect and this is not always possible," said the Italian who continues to give the air of being thoroughly relaxed. "We didn't kill them off but last year we could even have lost this game. They are a good team. Every time they play a side stronger than them on paper they give a good performance."