Football: Chelsea savour small feast

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Walsall. . . .0

Chelsea. . . .3

CHELSEA, who feasted on 7-0 and 5-0 victories in their two most recent visits to Walsall, cheerfully endured the relative famine of a three-goal success in last night's Coca-Cola Cup second round, first leg match at Bescot Stadium.

Their hosts, who share the Third Division's worst defensive record, must have feared another rout when Chelsea built a 2-0 lead through Dennis Wise and Eddie Newton before the half-hour mark. Belatedly showing some of the aggression for which their manager, Kenny Hibbitt, was renowned, Walsall restricted the Premier League side to a solitary second-half goal by Andy Townsend.

Robert Fleck, Chelsea's record signing at pounds 2.1m, failed to score the goal which would have doubled his tally for the season, but created the second and third with his speedy, selfless running. Sadly for Walsall, their own highly prized summer capture, the former Everton and Manchester City striker, Wayne Clarke, was unable to conjure anything remotely similar.

When the clubs were paired at the same stage two years ago, Chelsea progressed on a 9-1 aggregate. The memory of that one-sided tie, plus the all-ticket restriction and increased prices, may have accounted for the low attendance. At 5,500, the new ground was barely half full, although the cancellation of a Chelsea 'special' due to flooding also affected the figure.

Chelsea controlled the match for all but a brief period in the second half, when Kevin Hitchcock made his only save of the evening from Rod McDonald, and also had to leave his area to clear from the same player.

The first goal arrived in the 15th minute, courtesy of Walsall's Wayne Williams. The right-back rose unchallenged to David Lee's cross but contrived to head the ball up, rather than out. Wise, hitting it on the volley as it fell, saw his left-footed shot go in by the far post.

Thirteen minutes later, Fleck raced clear down the left and centred low into Mick Harford's path. Mark Gayle showed great agility to parry the centre-forward's effort, only to find Newton following up to score. The third goal, which Townsend slid home 12 minutes from time, ensured that the second leg on 7 October will be little more than target practice for Chelsea and a damage-limitation exercise for Walsall.

Walsall: Gayle; Williams, Statham, O'Hara, West, Smith, Ntamark, Clarke, Marsh, Ollerenshaw (Edwards, 83), McDonald. Substitute not used: MacDonald.

Chelsea: Hitchcock; Stuart, Sinclair, Townsend, Lee, Donaghy, Newton, Fleck, Harford, Spackman, Wise. Substitutes not used: Pearce, Spencer.

Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester).