Football: Chelsea hit by Henry

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The Independent Online
Chelsea. . . . . .1

Oldham Athletic. .1

PROFESSIONAL footballers are notorious creatures of habit, so with all the changes afoot, there was a curiously experimental start to the season at Stamford Bridge yesterday.

Match officials in green, three substitutes on the bench and the new back-pass rule - a change akin to outlawing the forward defensive in cricket - were only starters on the menu. For Chelsea, there was the additional perplexity of assimilating a new strike force.

Chelsea's out-of-character spending spree over the last week has raised plenty of eyebrows, the explanation that an amorous adventure can open up a man's wallet as well as his heart becoming apparent only in the last few days. Of Chelsea's new boys, Robert Fleck was by far the most impressive, bringing an acrobatic save from John Hallworth as early as the 20th minute, drifting a spectacular lob just wide of a post 13 minutes later and troubling Oldham all afternoon with his speed of foot and mind.

Mick Harford, by contrast, was largely inoccuous, and Chelsea's manager, Ian Porterfield, must be wondering whether it will ever be possible for him to accommodate Harford and Tony Cascarino in the same team. That said, it was Harford who opened Chelsea's account for the season with as spectacular a goal as he can ever have scored in his much-travelled career.

It came with just six minutes remaining, and it owed everything to the controversial new rule. Ian Marshall tried to control a long clearance which, in other circumstances, he would almost certainly have knocked back to his keeper. In fact he made a decent fist of it, but he lost the ball as he turned and Harford crashed it in off the bar from fully 25 yards.

Chelsea's celebrations, though, were cut short a minute later by a moment of madness. Beasant, receiving the ball not from a back- pass but from a misplaced Oldham through-ball, emerged from his penalty area to return the ball upfield but succeeded only in finding Nick Henry in the vicinity of the centre circle. Henry's first-time effort was unerring in its accuracy and the ball rolled gently past the startled keeper and into the net.

Chelsea: D Beasant; S Clarke, G Hall, V Jones, P Elliott, M Donaghy, G Stuart, R Fleck, M Harford, A Townsend, D Matthew (E Newton, 76 min). Substitutes not used: J Allon, K Hitchcock. Manager: I Porterfield.

Oldham: J Hallworth, S Redmond, A Barlow, N Henry, R Jobson, I Marshall, G Halle, R Palmer (N Tolson, 68 min), G Sharp, M Milligan, P Bernard. Substitutes not used: C Fleming, J Keeley. Manager: J Royle.

Referee: I Borrett (Harleston, Norfolk).

Goals: Harford (1-0, 84 min); Henry (1-1, 85 min).