Football: Chelsea reopen the flair show

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 4

Petrescu 7, M Hughes 31,Wise 34, 40

Southampton 2

Davies 25, Monkou 59

Attendance: 30,008

Just as it was in the Sixties, the Bridge is where it is all happening again. Hapless Southampton were the latest lambs to be slaughtered by Chelsea, doing their goal difference a further power of good in the process but perhaps lacking a vengeful ruthlessness which could have destroyed their visitors.

The Saints never had the resources to smother the flair and imagination that Chelsea had on tap from the likes of Dennis Wise, Roberto di Matteo and Gianfranco Zola, while Michael Duberry and Franck Leboeuf - despite the often unnerving presence behind them in goal - confidently passed what few real challenges came their way.

The shape of things to come was indicated as early as the seventh minute when a concentrated spell of early Chelsea pressure was climaxed by Dan Petrescu's sweet chip from the edge of the box which cleared Paul Jones in the visitors' goal and settled snugly in his net after clipping a post.

It was one-way traffic in the main, although another aberration by Chelsea's Dutch goalkeeper gave Saints a glimmer of hope in the 26th minute. Graeme Le Saux's pass back should have been a simple exercise to clear but Ed de Goey chose to take the ball across the goalmouth on to his good foot, but one touch too many gave Kevin Davies the opportunity to challenge and, embarrassingly, the ball broke from his tackle to trickle across the Chelsea goal-line.

But it was to prove the falsest of dawns as, in a bewildering five-minute spell, Chelsea bounded into a 4-1 lead. The first in the 29th minute saw Duncan Spedding blocking Gustavo Poyet's header on the line but Leboeuf charged in to head the bouncing ball into the net.

Three minutes later the restored Mark Hughes celebrated with the classic flashing header from Le Saux's cross and another two minutes had passed before Wise sidefooted the fourth beyond Jones as Zola once again reduced the Saints defence to a mass of dazed confusion.

Chelsea knew their opponents were well and truly on the ropes and even the diminutive Zola felt it was worth trying his luck with the header from Hughes's inviting cross. As the half ended all the visitors had to show as a gesture of recovery were three successive corners and a shot from Spedding which bobbled a foot past De Goey's left-hand post. Then, just to daunt any such comeback thoughts, Jones was lucky to see a fierce Hughes volley rebound off his sprawling legs.

The effervescence had gone out of Chelsea's play but Southampton gave notice that they might be dead but the burial had yet to take place when Ken Monkou pulled one back against his old club in the 68th minute.

Tempers began to boil over in the last 10 minutes after Frank Sinclair was sent off for a rash bash at substitute Andy Williams. One of Chelsea's substitutes, Mark Nicholls, and the Saints defenders Monkou and Francis Benali, along with another substitute Allan Nielsen were all given the milder chastisement of a yellow card.

Gianluca Vialli appeared in place of Zola for the last 20 minutes but was unable to add to the damage already done.

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