Football: Di Matteo brings Chelsea late relief

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday 0

Chelsea 1

Di Matteo 85

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance:29,410

IF THE FA Cup means less to Chelsea than Europe or the Premiership, then they hid their indifference extraordinarily well after Roberto di Matteo's 85th-minute goal earned the club a fifth quarter-final appearance in eight seasons at Hillsborough yesterday.

Maybe it was the relief at not having to squeeze another replay into a schedule beginning to become crowded but when the Italian, a first-half substitute for the full-back Albert Ferrer, headed the decisive goal for Gianluca Vialli's side, the reaction among them betrayed nothing but joy. Di Matteo crashed into the advertising hoardings with teammates descending on him from all angles as Celestine Babayaro turned somersaults nearby.

"I felt we paid for one lapse of concentration," Danny Wilson, the Wednesday manager, said. "I think Chelsea would have been pleased to take us to a replay."

Vialli saw it differently. "We played well, better than for some time and we controlled the game," he said. "We wanted to win and we deserved to do so."

Chelsea had played well, although still, to an extent, in patches. Time and again, especially in the first hour, they would seem to be taking a grip on the contest only to release it.

But in their better moments, as Vialli insisted, they had opportunities to go ahead long before they did. After only six minutes, the former Wednesday player Dan Petrescu, running on to Jody Morris's pass, had a clear sight of Kevin Pressman's goal but struck his shot the wrong side of the post. Before half an hour had passed, Babayaro and Morris had further chances.

One of these ought to have yielded a goal and it was just as well for Chelsea that they could rely on Franck Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly to maintain a vigilant policing of Benito Carbone, the Italian around whom most of Wednesday's forward movements were built.

The loss of Ferrer and the arrival of a newly blond-rinsed Di Matteo after 30 minutes did not disrupt Chelsea's superiority nor their security at the back, where Petrescu dropped into Ferrer's right-back berth. Ed de Goey was rarely required, the best of Wednesday's attempts coming from Carbone soon after the start and Wim Jonk just before half-time, although both missed the target.

In the second half again, Chelsea found one vital quality or another would be missing, much as they monopolised possession. If it was not fluency in midfield that eluded them, it was the killer touch in front of goal. Sometimes they came close to getting it right, as in one splendidly intricate move along the right involving Petrescu, Vialli, Di Matteo and Morris. But Di Matteo was hustled out of a shot.

Des Walker and Emerson Thome were twin pillars of strength in the Wednesday rearguard and, inevitably, the more frustrated Chelsea became the more the home side sensed they could steal something. They almost did when Leboeuf, momentarily taking his eye off the ball, lost it to Andy Booth. Carbone saw the opportunity but had to act fast and although his shot dipped late it was too late to trouble De Goey.

But Wednesday were encouraged and Chelsea survived by a whisker with 18 minutes left when Wim Jonk's crossfield pass found Niclas Alexandersson unmarked. The Swede's first attempt was beaten out by De Goey, his follow- up blocked before Morris cleared up.

Then at last Chelsea's dominance gained its reward. Another swift movement along the right ended with Bjarne Goldbaek, introduced only four minutes earlier in place of Morris, delivering a deep cross to the far post to be met powerfully on the run by Di Matteo, sparking a celebration among the Chelsea players that left their feelings about the Cup in no doubt.

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