Football: Hoddle so striking

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The Independent Online
Chelsea. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Barnard 39, Hoddle 79

West Ham United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Attendance: 19,545

GLENN HODDLE has endured some tough times in his first season at Stamford Bridge. But the memory of them is receding as fast as is the spectre of relegation from his Chelsea side. Their fourth win in five Premiership games yesterday may not have been wholly convincing, but it lifted them to 14th and was graced by Hoddle's first goal for the club.

The result meant Chelsea leapfrogged over West Ham, whose season has suddenly taken on a different complexion. As long as they were going well in the FA Cup, it was possible to overlook some indifferent league form. But following their quarter-final replay defeat at Luton last week, the facts make stark reading: no Premiership win since 1 January.

The FA Cup semi-final that never was had difficulty generating much atmosphere. On a beautiful spring afternoon there were times when anybody who had wandered in from watching the Boat Race might have questioned which was the livelier event.

Little happened to disturb the waters until five minutes before half-time when Chelsea went ahead through their left- back, Darren Barnard. Advancing in space on the West Ham penalty area, he passed to his left, but got the ball straight back from Tim Breacker as the West Ham defender botched an interception. From then on it was a straightforward shot past Ludek Miklosko.

The goal should have increased Chelsea's confidence. But it seemed to have the reverse effect, and the spell of tentativeness that followed allowed West Ham to work their way back into contention. Ian Bishop controlled their midfield with some deft touches, and seven minutes into the second half was the link in a one- two with Breacker, from which the West Ham right-back fired into the side netting.

Chelsea sprang back to life on the hour when Barnard nearly added an 'assist' to his goal. From his deep ball to the far post, John Spencer drove a shot into the ground which bounced up and cannoned off the bar. To keep the momentum going, Hoddle brought himself on for the last 25 minutes. But it was the West Ham substitute, Trevor Morley, who initially made more impact, hitting a post with 16 minutes left. But six minutes later, Hoddle found the net after a whipped- in cross by Spencer had rebounded into his path.

'We've still got to get out of the dogfight completely,' Hoddle said. But at least Chelsea are heading in the right direction now. Billy Bonds, the West Ham manager, will need to right things before travelling to Sheffield United tomorrow.

(Photograph omitted)

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