Football / FA Cup Semi-Finals: Shreeves schemes to unleash elusive qualities: Trevor Haylett reports on the difficulties facing an astute coach who is plotting for a novel day

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The Independent Online
AFTER all the talk this season about Glenn Hoddle the influential player, Hoddle the match- winning substitute and Hoddle the tactically astute manager, it is all too easy to overlook the part others will play in determining Chelsea's fate in tomorrow's FA Cup semi-final with Luton. They are not a one-man team, nor are they a one-man management team and the one who sits at 'God's' right hand, the Chelsea coach Peter Shreeves, also has a vital contribution to make this weekend.

Hoddle and Shreeves, as the former assistant manager and then manager (twice) of Tottenham, have shared the pressures of preparing for semi-final occasions in the past. But a Wembley semi-final is new to Shreeves and between now and 5pm tomorrow, the coach with one of the best football brains around will be working hard to remind the players that although the Cup road has reached its glamour destination they remain one game away from journey's end.

'My memories of FA Cup semi- finals in the past are of dry, dusty pitches at another club's ground, usually somewhere in the Midlands. Here we are at Wembley and yet it is not the day out that Wembley has come to mean. Regardless of the surroundings, it has to be business as usual.'

It is by no means easy to make sense of this Chelsea season, which began brimful of expectation with Hoddle's arrival before the immediate, if misleading, triumph in the Makita International. The early days of the Premiership suggested an intelligent, mobile side beginning to take shape but things quickly began to go awry and before long relegation was casting a shadow over Stamford Bridge.

The new year brought the welcome diversion of the FA Cup. Hope springs eternal, of course, but a scoreless draw in the third round at home to Barnet, the team who have just become the first to be demoted, hardly inspired dreams of the Twin Towers.

'We should have got beat that day,' Shreeves recalled. 'We were also lucky to come through against Oxford where we had to show our stickability. Nor did we play particularly well against Wolves in the quarter-final until Glenn came on as substitute and changed things.

'Our quality performance came at Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth- round replay. It was the same night that a few of the big boys went out, Arsenal, Newcastle, Leeds and Blackburn the day before and it was then I started thinking we had a chance of going all the way.

'We have blown hot and cold all season. When we lost Glenn through injury we were no longer equipped to play the 3-5-2 formation and reverted to 4-4-2. It took us time to adjust. We signed Mark Stein and he took time to settle in, as all new players do. We have beaten Manchester United twice and their opponents in the other semi-final are Oldham, who have beaten us home and away. That's how topsy-turvy we have been.'

Habitual inconsistency and an unkind series of injuries has brought to prominence players whom the new management had not expected to make an impact. Craig Burley and John Spencer were given their chance and seized it with eye-catching goals and solid performances to underpin those areas where quality was never in doubt.

The Russian goalkeeper, Dmitri Kharin, has been a revelation. 'I've worked with Pat Jennings and Ray Clemence and Neville Southall with Wales and this fellow is in the frame with them. He has terrific range of movement and springability and early on he was the reason why we were not in more trouble.

'Dennis Wise has tempered his aggression and has become a better player for it. He's the one who wears the flag of Chelsea on his chest, the one you look at in the dressing-room and think, 'Go on little fella, with you in the side we've got a chance.'

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