Football: Chelsea hustlers cramp Rangers' style: Rangers run off the top - Sky Blues sink - United start the climb back -Arsenal bump and grind - Liverpool rely on wing wizardry

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FIRST Coventry on top of the table, then Queen's Park Rangers, now Blackburn Rovers - by tonight it could be Norwich's turn. Perhaps egalitarianism is what they meant by a whole new ball game.

Perhaps not. The Premier League was always an elitist concept, and while the rest of us may enjoy the vicissitudes of late summer, the egoists behind the breakaway will only be happy when the provincial pretenders come down - preferably with the first leaves of autumn.

The architects of the new League will be heartened by the progress of Everton and Arsenal, in fourth and fifth places, and by Manchester United, closing rapidly after their dodgy start.

Reassuringly, some things never change. Chelsea, for example, are still no better than they ought to be. QPR are, but lack the wherewithal to make the leap from crowd pleasers to championship contenders.

Saturday's west London derby at Stamford Bridge was a disappointment for numerous reasons, by no means the least of which was the fact that QPR tried to play the more cultured, progressive football, and lost 1-0.

Chelsea have again spent millions, on Robert Fleck, Mick Harford, Mal Donaghy and John Spencer, and yet, as usual, they look a couple of players short of fulfilling Ken Bates's ultimate ambition. Ian Porterfield, the manager, confirmed that he was still in the market for a left-back, having conceded defeat in his pursuit of Terry Phelan and Julian Dicks.

Bates will continue to throw money at the problem, but money alone may not be enough. The team has star names, but no style - not unless hustle and run can be termed such.

QPR, conversely, have bags of style, but no money. They, too, are a couple short, notably in attack, where the improving Les Ferdinand could do with a more reliable partner than Denis Bailey. How Gerry Francis must have envied the pounds 2.1m Porterfield was able to spend on Fleck.

Was there any money at his disposal to reinforce a small squad, ill-equipped to cope when injuries bite deep? Francis laughed. It was ever thus. He paid for one signing out of his own pocket during his managership of Bristol Rovers. At least those days are over.

He will continue to make do and mend, fashioning impossibly rounded teams from bare bones material. QPR's progress under his studious, principled management has seen them lose just five of their last 30 League games. Nine months ago, only Luton Town kept them off the bottom of the First Division. Today, only Blackburn separate them from the top.

On Saturday they made an exciting start, threatening to sweep Chelsea away with a measured, passing game, liberally sprinkled with one-touch skills of the highest order. Unfortunately, they spurned a glorious chance after three minutes, when Bailey beat Dave Beasant to Clive Wilson's through pass, and shot tamely wide of the vacant net.

A new ball was promptly called for, presumably because the referee was unable to tolerate Bailey's misuse of the old one, but the miss had unsettled Rangers, and Chelsea made the most of their reprieve.

They remained second best throughout the first half, and Ferdinand might have scored with a header around the half-hour mark, but by voracious first-to- the-ball hunting they turned the tide.

That QPR suddenly found themselves running up blind alleys was evident when Ray Wilkins, of all people, was heard bellowing: 'Don't piss about; get it in the box.'

Wilkins, the midfield metronome, was ground down by the abrasive attentions of Vinnie Jones, and without his precise, economical direction the game became progressively scrappier, and more to Chelsea's liking.

These days, Jones, Townsend, Wise and Harford equip them to scrap it out like the Wimbledon of old, and their sleeves-rolled gung- ho was rewarded just before the hour with a scruffy goal, entirely in keeping with an untidy game.

Darren Peacock, an underrated centre-half, made a better job than most of keeping Harford in check, but for once the old warrior found sufficient space to hit and hope from 15 yards. Hopeful was the word, but Jan Stejskal somehow allowed an innocuous shot to bounce through his clutches at his right-hand post.

'Not the sort of goal you would want to get beaten by', was Francis's head-shaking verdict.

QPR might still have won it, Ferdinand demanding a smart overhead save from Beasant, then taking the ball past the goalkeeper, only to miss the proverbial barn door.

Porterfield had the good grace to concede that Chelsea had been 'fortunate.' Francis said his team looked 'jaded' after five games in 13 days.

Jaded in August? Never mind, Gerry. Only another nine months and they can have a fortnight off.

Goal: Harford (58) 1-0.

Chelsea: Beasant; Clarke, Hall, Jones, Elliott, Donaghy, Stuart, Fleck, Harford, Townsend, Wise. Substitutes not used: Lee, Newton, Colgan (gk).

Queen's Park Rangers: Stejskal; Bardsley, Wilson, Wilkins, Peacock, McDonald, Impey, Barker, Ferdinand, Bailey (Penrice 64), Sinton. Substitutes not used: Maddix, Roberts (gk). .

Referee: A Buksh (London).