Football: Despite its unremitting pace, what the Premiership offers Gullit and other foreign imports is space to go about their business. Some of the time anyway

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The Independent Online
Just like old times at Stamford Bridge. Snuffed out by George Graham's earnest toilers at Leeds last week, at home they were a different proposition. Could the difference be Ruud Gullit?

Starting only because Mark Hughes is wounded, Chelsea's player-manager ran rings around the notion that time waits for no footballer; for the Dutchman it slows respectfully to a crawl.

The mere fact that Gullit was out there made Royle envious; an old centre- forward remembering the thrill of it all. "Still their best player," Everton's manager said after this 2-2 draw. "I wish he'd been on the bench."

It is where Gullit can mostly be found these days, so how long can he go on performing? "After a couple of runs in the second half my tongue was down by my boots," he said "and it was difficult to find a rhythm."

Not that Everton would have noticed. When is this old guy going to stop coming at us, you could imagine them thinking.

Despite its unremitting pace, what the Premiership offers Gullit and other foreign imports is the space to go about their business. Some of the time anyway.

Certainly, the setbacks Chelsea and Everton suffered last week did not intrude upon an encouragingly positive attitude. "We are wannabe teams," Royle added. "We are better than our positions suggest but we aren't quite getting there."

Practically everywhere in the Premiership now there is a problem with pronunciation. A bigger problem, some say, is that the presence of big names from abroad will be to the ultimate detriment of British football. "I don't understand the criticism," Gullit said. "The guys who have come here give the game a lift. They don't have to prove anything."

Gianfranco Zola is a good example. Everton were entitled to be annoyed when Chelsea were awarded a 12th-minute free-kick - and with Michael Duberry's bullying presence in the wall - but the Italian's execution was perfect, his strike too much even for a goalkeeper of Neville Southall's ageless authority.

It set up one of those games that leave the punters tingling. Everton, in broad black and yellow stripes that made them stand out like inflatable dinghies (handy this on a murky day), got right back into it. Operating at impressive pace, they drew level when Gary Speed's challenge freed the ball for Michael Branch to score his first senior goal. Pleasingly, his excitement did not run to one of those childish demonstrations that have become irritatingly fashionable.

When we spoke before the game, Royle appeared to in good humour, and doubtless a smile crossed his face when Andre Kanchelskis put Everton ahead in the 28th minute. A risk of playing three at the back is that it sometimes leaves the defence without cover, which was precisely the case when Kanchelskis skated past Steve Clarke to tuck the ball low past Frode Grodas.

Mind you, Chelsea caused Royle plenty of anxiety. Gianluca Vialli only fractionally miscued with attempted volleys and Gullit was clearly upset with himself for sending a header wide.

When things later began to develop in Chelsea's favour it became clear that unless Everton did something about Zola they would have nothing to show for their efforts. Give a player of Zola's class time and room on the ball, and a fair bet is that he will do serious damage.

Combining neatly with Gullit, the Italian committed the old war-horse Dave Watson ( another who appears to go on forever) to his one error of the match, and Vialli headed Chelsea level.

Soon after, Royle sent out fresh instructions, ordering Earl Barrett to close down Zola who immediately found life more difficult. Nevertheless, Everton remained under siege. Zola bounced a corner off the crossbar, Vialli went close, so did Petrescu.

Gullit came off at the end smiling wistfully. A pulled muscle will sideline Vialli for two weeks, and Chelsea again had not taken advantage of the openings they created. A good question is: will Gullit be around to see the completion of contracts that will keep Dennis Wise and Steve Clarke at Chelsea until the next millennium? Unfortunately, not as a player.

Goals: Zola (12) 1-0; Branch (17) 1-1; Kanchelskis (28) 1-2; Vialli (55) 2-2.

Chelsea (3-5-2): Grodas; Duberry, Leboeuf, Clarke; Petrescu, Zola, Newton, Wise, Minto (Burley, h-t); Vialli (Sinclair, 89), Gullit. Substitutes not used: Di Matteo, Nicholls, Colgan (gk).

Everton (3-5-2): Southall; Barrett, Unsworth, Watson; Kanchelskis, Parkinson, Grant, Speed, Hinchcliffe; Ferguson, Branch (Stuart, 71). Substitutes not used: Rideout, Hottiger, Short, Gerrard (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset).

Bookings: Chelsea: Petrescu, Wise.

Man of the match: Gullit.

Attendance: 28,418.