Football: Holden finds pressure point

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Oldham Athletic. . . . . . .2

Jobson 17, Sharp 81

Chelsea. . . . . . . . . . .1

Spencer 52

Attendance: 12,022

ON the beach that passed for a football pitch at Boundary Park yesterday Chelsea got stuck in the sand at the bottom of the Premiership while their fellow strugglers Oldham suggested that they may yet again catch the last boat back to safety.

In a game that produced more excitement than good football, the winning goal came only nine minutes from time, just as both sides seemed to be reconciling themselves to the result that neither wanted. In the end Oldham's sheer force of will prevailed over a Chelsea team who showed some nice touches but looked awfully brittle when the pressure was on.

If it comes to a relegation dogfight in the coming weeks you would have to fancy Oldham's chances over Chelsea's. Not only is their experience of such situations more relevant, so are their battling qualities.

Much has been made of Glenn Hoddle's attempt to instil into his Chelsea side the finer principles, when what many feel they need is simply to get stuck in. It finally seemed to be paying dividends when they started to put together some better results at the turn of the year. But things are slipping again; two draws and two defeats in their last four matches.

Both teams went into the game buoyed by FA Cup success, but initially it was Chelsea who looked to have gained the greater benefit, putting together some quick and effective passing movements while Oldham players struggled to find each other. But when Oldham scored after 21 minutes - a thumping header by Richard Jobson from Rick Holden's corner - Chelsea's spirit seemed to drain away.

For a while the match turned into the Rick Holden Show. With his lolloping gait, the Oldham winger does not look much of a threat, but he ran Chelsea ragged down the left.

The game itself, though, was not going anywhere until Eddie Newton, after appearing to handle, slipped the ball through for John Spencer to equalise in the 51st minute. Chelsea breathed new life, and Mark Stein had a fierce shot brilliantly tipped away by Jon Hallworth. But Stein was destined not to score, the first time that has happened in eight games.

For the first time there was a bit of flow to the game as spaces started to open up. Stein made a run down the right before Newton picked up his pass inside to drive a shot at Hallworth, which he gathered well. Oldham responded in kind, and Chelsea were forced into some clumsy challenges in an attempt to remain intact at the back.

They were still vulnerable to Holden on the left, and it was through his persistence that Oldham finally heaved their way to victory. Another testing cross, an inadvertent header back to the near post by the Chelsea defender Frank Sinclair, and there was Graeme Sharp to bundle the ball in.

(Photograph omitted)