Football: FA Cup: No brickbats but flying hot dogs floor Durkin

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The Independent Online
Oldham Athletic 0 Chelsea 2

LONDON HAS its palaces, even Blackpool has its tower, but Oldham? Well, shall we say its claims are more prosaic. As you enter the town on the old Yorkshire road a bridge proudly proclaims the place as "the home of the tubular bandage".

Which was prophetic in some ways. You came to Boundary Park expecting to see the home team requiring urgent medical attention after an FA Cup accident and instead it was the referee, Paul Durkin, who had the St John's Ambulance staff clucking like mother hens round him.

Durkin was hit by something thrown from the crowd which no one can condone. Oldham could face a fine, which for a cash-strapped club would be a disaster. Or part of their ground could be closed. You cannot allow these things.

That is the sanctimonious bit over. For the referee it was not funny, but a few smiles arrived on other faces when the missile was revealed as a hot dog. Mr Durkin will, however, report the incident to the Football Association.

Even Ken Bates, the Chelsea chairman and aspiring FA supremo, could detect a lighter side, suggesting that, as BSkyB had reported the object was a rock, the vendor might sue, but whatever the texture of the bun it helped knock some wisdom into the official.

Mr Durkin was just about the only person in the ground who had failed to notice Celestine Babayaro blatantly using his hand en route to Dennis Wise lashing the ball into the Oldham net. He signalled a goal, the linesman had not contradicted him, and if the home players and a sausage had not gone ballistic an injustice would have been done.

Perhaps a medical orderly whispered into the ear he was treating, or the police, who arrested the culprit, explained the evidence, but the "goal" was disallowed and Babayaro cautioned. Goodbye a potential riot and hello a routine Chelsea victory.

The scoreline did not lie. This was a thoroughly professional job by the Premiership high flyers over a team struggling in the Second Division relegation zone. Even the notorious local weather tried its best, serving up a storm flung down from the Pennines. But the parity Oldham chiselled out, by dint of John Sheridan's master class in midfield and sheer hard work, was surrendered when the legs ran out after an hour.

Perhaps the energy levels would have endured longer if they had been re-charged by a home goal. But, after Steve Whitehall's shot hit a post, bounced off Ed de Goey's head, and then ricocheted crazily round the Chelsea area without finding the net, the plug was pulled.

"We made them look ordinary in the first half," Andy Ritchie, the Oldham manager, said. "The boys have shown what they can do and its up to them to repeat it in the League. If we produce that kind of determination there won't be many Second Division sides who can live with us."

Living with Chelsea was another matter, however, as was laid bare by the quality of the goals. Stuart Thom failed to clear for the first and was punished by a deadly finish by Gianluca Vialli. And Bjarne Goldbaek's skills down the right, that offered his player and manager the second on a plate, are rarely seen in the Nationwide League.

"We did our job," Vialli said. "Oldham did very well and battled and fought for everything. They made us work very hard, but in the end we deserved to win. We know what the FA Cup is about, it's about spirit.

He added: "We didn't play at our best but we did a difficult job well."

They did and, as Ritchie conceded, Boundary Park could have been witness to the start of a winning FA Cup run. He was relieved his side had not capitulated in front of such obvious quality and was also breathing a little easier that Mr Durkin had not been hit by any of the more substantial objects thrown on the pitch.

"Thank goodness it wasn't one of the local pies," he said. "That would have done more damage than a brick."

Oldham might yet need some of their renowned bandages when the FA get round to punishing them.

Goals: Vialli (68) 0-1; Vialli (75) 0-2.

Oldham Athletic (3-5-2): Kelly; Garnett (Swan, 63), Thom, Holt (Tipton, 81); Rickers, Duxbury, Sheridan, McNiven, Reid; Whitehall, Allott. Substitutes not used: Miskelly, Innes, Salt.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Terry, Duberry, Desailly, Le Saux; Goldbaek (Di Matteo, 76), Wise, Morris, Babayaro; Zola (Flo h-t, Nicholls, 68), Vialli. Substitutes not used: Myers, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset).

Bookings: Oldham: McNiven, Garnett, Reid; Chelsea: Babayaro, Duberry.

Man of the match: Sheridan.

Attendance: 12,770.