Football: Hoddle's principle problems

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The Independent Online
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HOW quickly, in football, friends become foes. Glenn Hoddle may be the answer to England's prayers but his supporters' club has few members in Swindon, where Chelsea's demise raises louder cheers with each turn for the worse.

Defeat against Sheffield's seasoned strugglers on Saturday left Hoddle's new team only two places above his old one, with the unhappy history of one point taken from 24 since Liverpool succumbed at Stamford Bridge on 25 September. Were it not for the saintly status he currently enjoys, one suspects that enquiries about the 'pressure' he may or may not be under would be delivered with less delicacy than they were at Bramall Lane.

But Hoddle, man of purist principles, has a survival instinct too. Whereas his disciple at Swindon, John Gorman, is inclined to carry on regardless, Hoddle is tilting towards compromise. His post-match text on Saturday, in which commitment and character were prominent nouns, could have been borrowed from Dave Bassett. 'We're in a dogfight,' Hoddle said. 'I don't like losing football matches,' he added, before elaborating more meaningfully: 'It does not allow you to play the way you would like to play.'

Hence, during his own current sick leave, sweepers and wing-backs have been sacrificed for the convention of 4-4-2. The result may not have gone for them on Saturday but Chelsea played as if pleased to be back in familiar surroundings.

Still croaky from flu, Hoddle bemoaned the 'rub of the green' too and he had a point. Against a goalkeeper less on his mettle than Alan Kelly, who is fighting for his place, Chelsea might have scored.

David Hopkin, an energetic supplement to the buzzing of Dennis Wise in midfield, twice saw long- range shots saved by the Irishman during a first half in which a header by Frank Sinclair hit a post. But it was late in the match that Kelly provided his most important contribution, coming off his line to block when Mark Stein, released by Gavin Peacock inside the area, seemed sure to bury an equaliser.

But the home side could also argue that they were overdue some luck: their last League win had been on 24 August. So when a header by Willie Falconer, made possible by Kevin Gage's skilful exchange with Carl Bradshaw on the right, found its way into the net via defender Steve Clarke's back, United were not moved to apologise.

Goal: Falconer (32) 1-0.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly, Gage, Tuttle, Beesley, Nilsen; Ward, Hoyland, Falconer, Whitehouse; Bradshaw, Scott (Hodges, 87). Substitutes not used: Davison, Muggleton (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-2): Kharin; Clarke, Sinclair, Kjeldbjerg, Donaghy (Burley, 78); Hopkin, Newton, Peacock, Wise; Stein, Shipperley (Cascarino, 72). Substitute not used: Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: R Milford (Bristol).

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