Football: Harford gives Chelsea attack a cutting edge

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The Independent Online
Manchester City. . .0

Chelsea. . . . . . .1

CHELSEA'S goal was back in safe keeping and, against a Manchester City team lost without the beacon called Niall Quinn, that was more than sufficient to assure them victory at Maine Road yesterday.

The hype of the television men and the myriad incidents which had nothing to do with creative football cannot disguise the fact that this was a dismal offering, but then you will find no one from Chelsea quibbling.

They had a semblance of shape to their game, while City floundered helplessly after a promising but illusory opening burst. Kevin Hitchcock, restored to the goalkeeping position Dave Beasant has literally thrown away, resisted those early assaults as he did those at the end and the points were secure.

The decisive strike came late in the first half when Mick Harford collected the ball after an indirect free-kick and registered his fifth goal of the season. The veteran striker gave Chelsea's attack the focal point that City sought in vain.

The absence of the suspended Quinn did not discourage City from lofting high balls into the area normally occupied by the Irishman. Neither Mike Sheron nor David White could fill the void, which enabled Chelsea's central defender David Lee to appear a player of supreme quality.

The alternative route for City was through the midfield, yet it soon became apparent that would be no more productive. This was Andy Townsend's territory and the Chelsea captain dominated it with the air of a man recapturing his finest form. He was ever available and ever prepared to make the forward run, and once he was in his stride the match was beyond City's reach. With more accurate finishing just after the break the issue would have been settled before Hitchcock saved from Gary Flitcroft and Fitzroy Simpson.

City's early purpose might have turned the match on a different course. Simpson pushed the ball straight at Hitchcock after White's volleyed pass and Sheron's low cross provided the opportunity. Hitchcock was required to be more agile to turn away Sheron's shot and for once White was not swift enough to squeeze in the loose ball.

Robert Fleck hoisted the ball over City's beckoning goal while the home defenders appealed to no avail for an offside decision and Harford might have made more of Andy Hill's misdirected attempt to play the ball out of his area.

The 28th-minute clash between City's Terry Phelan and Rick Holden, which forced the latter to leave the field for the rest of the half to have stitches in a gashed gum, was in keeping with the hapless team's fortunes. So, too, was the indirect free-kick conceded by captain Keith Curle in the 39th minute, for dangerous play inside the area. The diminutive Dennis Wise, who theatrically reeled away from the incident clutching his head, recovered his wits to play the ball to Lee and although his shot was blocked by the wall, Harford dispatched the rebound to give Chelsea the lead.

The game the goal deserved never materialised. Instead we had an ugly challenge from Simpson which left Wise on the ground. Simpson was booked and given a dressing-down by a furious Townsend. Chelsea's captain explained: 'I told Fitzroy he was better than that and he said he didn't mean to do Dennis, and I'll take his word for it. But as captain of the team I've got to stand by my players. I saw it as a bad tackle.

'I just did what I thought was right. A couple of weeks ago we lost Paul Elliott with a bad injury and I didn't want to see either Dennis, or Fitzroy, carted off and out of the game for the rest of the year.'

Manchester City: Coton; I Brightwell, Phelan, Reid (Mike, 72), Curle, Hill, White, Flitcroft, Sheron, Simpson, Holden. Substitutes not used: D Brightwell, Margetson (gk).

Chelsea: Hitchcock; Hall (Stuart, 83), Sinclair, Townsend, Lee, Donaghy, Newton, Fleck (Spencer, 72), Harford, Spackman, Wise. Substitute not used: Chamberlain (gk).

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).

Reports and results, pages 26 and 27