Football: Chelsea 3 Skonto Riga 0 - Sutton seals Chelsea flourish - Sport - The Independent

Football: Chelsea 3 Skonto Riga 0 - Sutton seals Chelsea flourish

HAVING WAITED 44 years longer than necessary to experience a European Cup tie, Stamford Bridge was kept in a state of frustration for another 80 minutes before seeing the goals that Chelsea needed to prepare for the next step. Skonto, champions of Latvia every season since the country regained its independence in 1991, were determined opponents who held out long after their left-back Andrejs Tereskinas was sent off with little more than half an hour played.

Then, all in a rush, beautifully struck shots by Celestine Babayaro and Gustavo Poyet, and a neat finish by Chris Sutton ensured that the London side should go through to the land of milk and honey that is the Champions' League unless Riga mortis sets in in two weeks' time.

Chelsea's unbeaten record in home European ties, extended now to 28, was never under any great threat, but until the late flourish they seemed to be suffering from last season's inability in Cup-Winners' Cup games to turn abundant possession and countless chances into the hard currency required in Europe.

Now Gianluca Vialli should get the opportunity to take on the very best sides on the continent, denied to one of his illustrious predecesors, Ted Drake, in 1955 by the club's pusillanimity in meekly accepting the Football League's recommendation that they should withdraw their entry from the inaugural European Cup.

With ITV's cameras present for last night's little piece of history, the lure of the armchair, or the pub chair, ensured that a disappointingly small crowd of 22,043 turned out.

After Imants Bleidelis and striker Mihails Miholaps (a striker who outscored Marian Pahars before his move to Southampton last season), had caused Chelsea anxious moments, Andrejs Tereskinas, waiting for Dennis Wise to take a corner, stupidly kicked Franck Leboeuf and was sent off.

Some attractive approach-play brought Vialli's team good chances for Gustavo Poyet, twice, and Wise on either side of that incident, with the Uruguayan left staring in disbelief as Aleksandrs Kolinko somehow recovered to beat his shot into the ground.

As Skonto dug in later, it was no surprise when Tore Andre Flo was summoned for the last 20 minutes, though the effervescent Gianfranco Zola was unfortunate to be asked to make way. Kolinko pulled off more fine stops but 10 minutes from the end Flo chested down for Babayaro, sent on at the same time, to score. Within 90 seconds Poyet matched the handsomeness of that strike after being set up by Wise. Sutton's first goal since his transfer from Blackburn was Chelsea's third in eight minutes.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Desailly, Leboeuf, Le Saux; Petrescu (Goldbaek, 79), Deschamps (Babayaro, 69), Wise, Poyet; Sutton, Zola (Flo, 69). Substitutes not used: Hogh, Nicholls, Forssell, Hitchcock (gk).

Skonto Riga (4-4-2): Kolinko; Laizans, Zemlinskis, Silagadze, Tereskinas; Bleidelis, Rekhviashvili, Astafjevs, Rubins; Miholaps (Menteshashvili, 81), Chaladze (Blagonadezdins, 40). Substitutes not used: Stepanous, Babichevs, Kolesnicenko, Olsanskis, Piedels (gk).

Referee: U Meier (Switzerland).

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