Football: Downward Flo for sorry Tottenham

Chelsea 2 Flo 75, Vialli 88 Tottenham Hotspur 0 Attendance: 34 ,149
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The Independent Online
FOR a moment it seemed the true blues had turned red. On closer inspection, the chant of "Down with the Palace" was merely a predictable taunt at an old rival's discomfort not an outbreak of rampant republicanism down at the Bridge. Another defeat, albeit postponed to the last quarter of a strangely dispassionate local derby, leaves Tottenham balanced precariously over the abyss. Signs of life among fellow stragglers did not help the Spurs cause.

Christian Gross, whose official home debut ended in a 6-1 defeat by Chelsea last November, must again be wondering whether the return half of his tube ticket, so theatrically flourished in his introductory press conference, is still valid. The thought of an away day to Barnsley on Saturday seems less like a three-point jaunt up the M1 than a journey to the heart of darkness. "I am a positive thinking man," the Tottenham manager confirmed. "My team, they are positive too." Spirit and nerve will be tested to the limit over the next month.

The Tottenham tormentor, as he had been four months before, was the tall Norwegian Tore-Andre Flo. Then, he scored a hat-trick. Yesterday, it was just a single goal but, given the poverty of the Spurs attack, in which Jurgen Klinsmann was a mere ornament - apart from a painful kick in the groin by Michael Duberry amid legitimate claims for a penalty - it was equally decisive. The lack of penetration will worry Gross, just as the reappearance of Les Ferdinand and Darren Anderton as substitutes will give him heart. Chris Armstrong and Klinsmann have yet to form any sort of understanding, though the shortage of decent crosses and the fitful influence of David Ginola - subdued eventually by the persistent Dennis Wise - made their task more difficult.

In contrast, Flo proved a handful for Sol Campbell all afternoon. Exploiting the inexperience of Allan Nielsen, moved to left-back in place of the injured Clive Wilson, the languid Norwegian proved a ready outlet for Chelsea's midfield. Had the disappointing Graeme Le Saux been able to profit from Ruel Fox's tendency to go walkabout, Chelsea would surely have unlocked a shaky Spurs defence long before closing time.

Complacency might have been Tottenham's best ally, given Chelsea's indifferent recent form and the diversion of a second leg semi-final in the European Cup Winners' Cup on Thursday. Another shake of the pot by Gianluca Vialli, plus a suggestion that yesterday's team might start against Vicenza, brought the required response. The man is learning. Vialli smiled like Machiavelli when asked about his side for Thursday. "It will probably be the same, but we will see over the next few days," he said. Fourteen changes in the last two games has made the selection policy of Ruud Gullit look positively straightforward. The return of the elegant and effective Gustavo Poyet, brought on as a late substitute after six months out through injury, will provide the one dilemma.

Vialli was involved in most of Chelsea's best work. In the first half, his measured chip was well anticipated by Ian Walker, who looked well beaten by a Duberry volley until the Chelsea player-manager inadvertently blocked the shot himself. But not until the second half did Chelsea truly raise the tempo. Dan Petrescu rounded Walker but shot into the side-netting, Wise curled his strike just wide.

Fifteen minutes from time, Flo moved smoothly on to a neat flick by Vialli and shot low past Walker and, as Gross gambled by sending Ramon Vega into the attack, Vialli completed the victory with his 18th goal of the season in the final minutes. Two headers, one by Ferdinand, who, said Gross, "looked very sharp", the second against the bar by Vega proved the sum of Tottenham's riposte. "We are still in a position to dictate our own destiny," Gross said. "I'm strong enough to raise Tottenham, but I'm used to challenging for the title." Which title is open to question. Down with the Palace? It is no longer unthinkable.