Football: Charlton miss their just reward

Chelsea 2 Charlton Athletic 1
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The Independent Online
ON PAPER this was as gross a mismatch as you are likely to find within the Premiership - Chelsea's multi-talented, multi-national superstars against a Charlton side whose players are not even household names in London. But as England have been finding out, class does not always tell against supposedly inferior opposition.

Gianluca Vialli's reaction to what he described as a poor Chelsea performance was commendably calm, eased no doubt by Gustavo Poyet's 88th-minute winner which robbed Charlton of another richly deserved point in their fight to establish themselves in the Premiership. They have drawn away at Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool and another draw here was the very least they deserved after batt-ling back from going a goal down to Franck Leboeuf's pen-alty and then losing their goalkeeper Sasa Ilic, who was knocked unconscious just before half-time.

Happily the Yugoslav recovered his wits during the interval although he was still suffering from concussion by the time the Chelsea manager was reflecting upon his side's good fortune. Vialli chose to highlight the number of international calls on his club over the past fortnight, which had given him only a day to prepare his players for the game, but although Arsenal's inability to beat lowly Southampton at home adds weight to his argument, Manchester United did not have any such problems against Wimbledon.

Vialli had restricted himself to a relatively conservative two changes for this match, but the method of squad rotation he inherited from Ruud Gullit and has chosen to persist with looks likely to remain a matter of debate for some time. There is no doubting that on Saturday Chelsea looked far more like a collection of talented individuals than a team recognisable to themselves or their supporters.

Alex Ferguson has begun to adopt a similar policy at Old Trafford where Andy Cole has come to epitomise the kind of attitude required from players if the policy is to succeed. He scored twice against Wimbledon but was happy to admit afterwards that he had no idea if he would play in their next game. Whether Vialli can rely on the same kind of commitment to the club cause from his players remains to be seen, but at least he seemed aware of the problem after substituting Marcel Desailly, Gianfranco Zola and Pierluigi Casiraghi in the second half against Charlton.

"So far it has been the most difficult part of my job," he said. "To deal with big names, when you know that whatever you do somebody is going to be unhappy. But it's up to the players to behave properly because if they respect each other I think we are good enough to go far. If they don't, of course we'll go nowhere but so far their behaviour has been spot on, they respect my decisions and they keep doing their best."

As for Charlton, Curbishley can be proud of the way his team, led by the inspirational Mark Kinsella, came back to equalise through Eddie Youds' opportunist effort and refused to be intimidated. It augurs well for their Premiership future and only a fool would bet on them joining the ranks of those who have gone straight back down after coming up.

Goals: Leboeuf (pen, 18) 1-0; Youds (58) 1-1; Poyet (88) 2-1.

Chelsea (4-3-3) De Goey; Ferrer, Duberry, Leboeuf, Babayaro; Di Matteo,Desailly (Wise, 55), Poyet; Laudrup, Casiraghi (Flo, 73), Zola (Petrescu, 73). Substitutes not used: Lambourde, Hitchcock (gk).

Charlton Athletic (5-3-2): Ilic (Petterson, 44); Mills, Rufus, Youds, Tiler, Powell; Redfearn, Kinsella (K Jones, 84), Mortimer (Robinson, 76); Hunt, Mendonca. Substitutes not used: Brown, Bright.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Chelsea: Ferrer, Di Matteo, Wise, Leboeuf. Charlton: Ilic, Tiler, Rufus.

Man of the match: Kinsella.

Attendance: 34,639.

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