Football: Flo and Poyet put Chelsea on title alert

Wimbledon 1 Chelsea 2
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CHELSEA ACHIEVED a feat that eluded both Manchester United and Arsenal as they became the first side in the Premiership's top 10 to defeat Wimbledon at Selhurst Park this season, and in so doing put themselves within a win of the top of the table. Another away victory at Middlesbrough on Wednesday will take them a point clear and signal the sincerity of their thus far understated title ambitions.

"We're absolutely thrilled by the way things have gone today," said Chelsea's coach, Ray Wilkins. "It was a very satisfactory afternoon's work. It is a massive week - it will be a tough game for us at Middlesbrough as they've had a mini-revival of late."

Wimbledon have fallen swiftly from their early season heights of a Uefa qualification spot, bearing out the opinions of those Euro sceptics who doubted they could sustain a challenge at the higher level.

Normally whipped into an adrenalin-fuelled frenzy by a visit from their supposed betters, Wimbledon failed to compete. Only fierce tackling from Ben Thatcher, Wimbledon's best player, on the left hand side stifled their opponent's ambitions and inhibited the advances of Dan Petrescu on the right side of Chelsea's midfield.

Gustavo Poyet's header after a Gianfranco Zola free-kick had the Chelsea fans prematurely celebrating as it went narrowly wide of the far post. Wimbledon were inclined towards kick and rush in the early stages, with a mature Chelsea biding their time.

It was a mistake by Chris Perry, Wimbledon's for once shaky centre-half, that led to Chelsea's opening goal. Bjarne Goldbaek made a strong run down the left and his cross found Tore Andre Flo, who scored easily from close range.

From Wimbledon's first corner, whipped in by Michael Hughes, John Hartson had time to control the ball with his chest, but his shot was blocked by Poyet. The Welsh striker had another attempt as the half wore on, volleying Marcus Gayle's flick directly at De Goey. Hartson has still not scored for Wimbledon since his pounds 7m move from West Ham.

If Chelsea dominated Wimbledon in the first half, they positively smothered them in the second as determination, the stitching which holds Wimbledon's band together, came loose as unsightly holes began to appear between the blue home shirts.

A half-time presentation to the actor who played Harry the Hatchet in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, failed to inspire the home team and they were still firing blanks after the intermission.

A second goal for Chelsea came after a cross from the marvellous Zola, his measured delivery met with a full-blooded volley from Poyet. Zola, Poyet again and Petrescu might have added to Chelsea's total but Wimbledon gave the visitors an uncomfortable last few minutes. A cross from their unfortunate substitute Gareth Ainsworth - his only decent contribution of a wretched second half - was put away efficiently by Marcus Gayle at the far post.

Chelsea have to hope that, with Manchester United and Arsenal otherwise engaged in pursuit of the double, they may yet sneak the Premiership title. "Please God it goes to extra time again," Wilkins quipped of next Wednesday's FA Cup semi-final replay.

Goals: Flo (24) 0-1; Poyet (53) 0-2; Gayle (90)1-2.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Thatcher (Leaburn, 77); C Hughes, Roberts, Euell, M Hughes (Ainsworth, h-t); Gayle, Hartson (Cort, 70). Substitutes not used: Kimble, Heald (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Le Saux, Lambourde, Duberry, Leboeuf; Goldaek, Poyet, Di Matteo (Morris, h-t), Petrescu (Newton, 86); Flo, Zola (Nicholls, 90). Substitutes not used: Ferrer, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing). Booking: Chelsea: Duberry.

Man of the match: Zola.

Attendance: 21,577.