Football: Chelsea 0 West Ham United 1 - Chelsea find Foe far too tough

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The Independent Online
IT'S OFFICIAL. The Premiership is now a "two-horse race" and Gianluca Vialli isn't in the saddle of either runner. After only their third defeat of the season the Chelsea manager spent some time playing down the West Londoners' chances of winning the title - their first since 1955 - but a rather-too-innocent glint in his eye suggested that the assertion should be taken with a pinch of the white stuff.

If West Ham are some sort of gauge of title aspirations then Vialli might have a point. After all, a point is all that Chelsea took from their matches against the Hammers this season while Manchester United and Arsenal achieved three wins and a draw between them against Harry Redknapp's unpredictable side.

If Chelsea's season is to be consigned to the past, then, best turn to the future and West Ham's Cameroon international midfielder Marc Vivien Foe. The pounds 4m signing from Lens is an awkward customer, a defensive-minded player whose rambunctious style is a cross between Patrick Vieira and Paulo Wanchope. Stationed in front of the West Ham back two, his long legs intervened on several occasions when Chelsea's short-passing game threatened, while a first-half goal was questionably disallowed after a harmless-looking challenge from Marc Keller.

"It's a different-paced game than he's used to but he's settled in well," Harry Redknapp remarked afterwards. "He's a spoiler. He's strong as an ox."

West Ham's classy defensive unit benefited from this extra layer of protection leaving the impressive Rio Ferdinand free to cope adeptly with both Chelsea strikers. Tore Andre Flo was habitually beaten in the air and Gianfranco Zola was neutralised somewhere around grass roots level, dominated and neutralised with a series of well-timed nudges and muscular interventions. The England centre-back was supported by his first lieutenant Neil Ruddock, a reassuring presence in case things cut up rough, which they didn't.

Chelsea were undone by their own integrity. Their laudably ingrained approach is to work and fashion, to shape openings and craft goals, but it was West Ham who eventually did the hard work of popping the ball between the sticks. And what hard work they made of it, too. Paul Kitson got his reward for a lonely afternoon up front, finishing inconclusively from six yards after Ed De Goey had blocked a header from the omnipresent Foe. Although the Dutch keeper scooped the ball out, it had clearly crossed the line.

Goals: Kitson (75) 0-1

Chelsea (4-4-2) De Goey; Le Saux (Petrescu, 60), Desailly (Duberry, 60), Myers (Forssell 83), Ferrer; Wise, Di Matteo, Goldbaek, Babayaro; Flo, Zola. Substitutes not used: Morris, Hitchcock (gk).

West Ham United (4-5-1) Hislop; Minto, Ferdinand, Ruddock, Pearce; Lampard, Lomas, Foe, Sinclair, Keller (Potts, 86); Kitson. Substitutes not used: Lazaridis, Berkovic, Moncur, Forrest (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Bookings: Chelsea: Duberry, Di Matteo. West Ham United: Foe.

Man of the match: Ferdinand.

Attendance 34,765.

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