Manchester City. . .0
IT COULD - just - have been worse for Chelsea last night. In avoiding their seventh consecutive League defeat, which would have equalled the ignominious club record set in 1952, they retrieved a small measure of respectability from a dismal match which Sky Sport, in their wisdom, chose to inflict on viewers across the country.
Those present at a freezing Stamford Bridge, including Chelsea's manager Glenn Hoddle, who had risen from his sick-bed, were unable to register their opinion via a switch - but many must have wished for such an option long before the final whistle.
Hoddle, naturally enough, was inclined to look on the bright side. 'We are beginning to build bridges. It is a start for us. I believe we can turn it around. Six defeats on the trot with any club at any level. . .is a testing time. You find out a lot of things about yourself and your players. You can learn through the hard times a lot quicker than when everything is rosy for you.'
The first half was largely a cat-and-mouse affair; Chelsea were generally the mouse. All aspects of their play betrayed the timidity and anxiety which losing runs can engender. Manchester City's occasional corners saw all 11 dark-blue shirts huddling together for support around their own area.
Home throw-ins took embarrassingly long, as one or two players bobbed about in unconvincing shows of enthusiasm. At the back, the centre-backs Frank Sinclair and Jakob Kjeldbjerg rose as one to crosses which required attention from only one of them.
It took the home side the best part of half an hour to produce anything resembling a threat. Eddie Newton's turn and through ball gave Gavin Peacock an opening which Tony Coton only half-closed at his first attempt, and Stein was penalised as he followed in.
The home frustration was disproportionately great. But within five minutes City had been presented with two far better opportunities - both of which, fortunately for Chelsea, they wasted. First Michel Vonk's header back from a corner fell straight to Steven Lomas, who lofted the ball over the bar. In the 36th minute, even more improbably, David White's cross from the right presented Niall Quinn with a free header at the far post as he stood unmarked by any of the three nearby defenders. Only he will know how he missed.
There was precious little to engage the frozen crowd of 10,128 - comfortably Chelsea's smallest of the season - until the 67th minute, when a mistake by the hitherto influential Steve McMahon allowed Neil Shipperley a clear run on Coton. The youngster's eventual shot lacked conviction, and the ball was deflected away by the joint attentions of the keeper and the scurrying figure of Terry Phelan.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Kharin; Donaghy, Kjeldbjerg, Sinclair, Clarke; Barnard, Newton, Peacock, Wise; Stein, Shipperley. Substitutes not used: Johnsen, Cascarino, Hitchcock (gk).
Manchester City (4-4-2): Coton; Vonk, Curle, Kernaghan, Phelan; White, Lomas, McMahon, Simpson; Sheron (Griffiths, 63), Quinn. Substitutes not used: Brightwell, Dibble (gk).
Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).Reuse content