Newcastle United 0
A Chelsea fan strolled into Stamford Bridge on Saturday with the legend "It's not how good you are, it's how much you want it" emblazoned on his shirt. This was long the unofficial slogan among the denizens of the old Shed end, now it appears to have reached the players.
Chelsea are widely regarded as the best team in the Premiership with the ball. However, they have not been as impressive when the opposition has it. This is partly due to defensive sloppiness. The back four have a tendency to ball-watch, while it is a long time since a Chelsea goalkeeper inspired real confidence. More than that, however, it is a lack of preparedness to roll the sleeves up and battle. Not in the sense of a scrap, any team with Dennis Wise and Mark Hughes in it will always stand up to be counted, more a belief that their inspiration should not need overmuch supplementing with perspiration.
Such an attitude may win occasional cups, but it does not win championships. For that art must be combined with graft. With the influx of foreign players and concentration of wealth there is now so little to choose between the quality of the top teams that the difference is increasingly a matter of application, both in mental discipline and physical leg-work.
Ruud Gullit, a multiple champion, knows this. He may have been involved in a few explosions of ego in the context of the eternally combustible Dutch national team, but his success with Milan was based on a blend of hard work and high skill. "I was never selfish, I always played for the team," he said after Chelsea's win.
Do not just take his word for it. The Dutchman's profile in the 1988/89 European Football Yearbook reads: "Gullit's role was predominantly that of a striker but his skilful, tireless contributions in all areas of the field made him the outstanding player."
He is now instilling a similar ethic at Chelsea. "What pleased me is the fact that the so-called stars worked really hard," he said. "If they work hard for you the rest will follow. You do not want prima donnas. I learned that at Milan, they split the team. It is important to not only be a great player but also to have character."
Gullit referred especially to Gianfranco Zola, Chelsea's outstanding player, and Gustavo Poyet whose 74th-minute header won the game.
"Zola is a fighter, he works hard. Poyet [who signed in the summer on a post-Bosman free transfer from Real Zaragoza] was the sort of player we needed. He is a necessary player like an Eddie Newton [the FA Cup final winner who is injured], Roy Keane, David Batty or Paul Ince. He has a great character and fits in well with the group. He will also score a lot of goals."
Chelsea's ability to score from midfield, and elsewhere, is one of their strengths. The Uruguayan is one of their 13 scorers - including the unfortunate Henning Berg - in eight matches. The surprise is that Zola has only scored once but, though again goalless on Saturday, he was part of most of the good things about Chelsea once they began to dominate.
This took about 25 minutes. The change, in shape and attitude, came after Gullit boldly replaced Paul Hughes, clearly struggling at right-back, with Frank Sinclair. Hughes has played fairly well in an unfamiliar position during Sinclair's suspension and it would have encouraged Chelsea's other youth products to see Gullit stick with the 21-year-old. It is to be hoped Hughes, who has been strong enough to come through serious injury, will now cope with his ignominious withdrawal - "I couldn't wait," Gullit said, "they had already had one chance from there".
As well as pressing John Barnes, who had been running the game, and denying John Beresford space to attack, the move was a signal to all the Chelsea team to pull their finger out. Suddenly it was not just Ian Rush and David Batty snapping at heels, Zola was doing it as well. Newcastle, who should have led through Jon Dahl Tomasson, were pushed back and only Shay Given kept them level.
Eventually, Poyet beat him, rising between Darren Peacock and Steve Watson to head in Wise's corner. Chelsea needed a good, late save from Ed de Goey - in probably his best performance - but generally closed the game up well.
"I was pleased with the way we changed our attitude after scoring," Gullit said. "We kept the ball well, we are now more determined and tighter. In the past Chelsea would have lost a game like this."
Newcastle had settled for a point when Poyet struck. They had only the keen but fading Rush in attack. It was then too late to change. Their defensive approach worked last week when they gained a fortunate win at West Ham but more panache is required to sustain a title challenge these days. It is a case of getting the balance right between Kevin Keegan's cavaliers and Kenny Dalglish's roundheads.
The weekend results notwithstanding, the feeling persists that Manchester United and Arsenal are closer than either of these teams.
Goal: Poyet (74) 1-0.
Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; P Hughes (Sinclair, 24), Leboeuf, Myers, Le Saux; Wise, Di Matteo (M Hughes, 57), Lambourde, Poyet; Zola, Flo. Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Vialli, Nicholls.
Newcastle United (3-5-2): Given; Peacock, Albert, Pistone; Watson, Barton, Batty, Barnes (Gillespie, 75), Beresford (Howey, 59); Tomasson (Ketsbaia, 54), Rush.
Referee: M Riley (Leeds).
Booked: Newcastle: Watson.
Man of the match: Zola.