CHELSEA responded to their Cup-Winners' Cup setback in Vicenza by drawing on their shadow squad at Pride Park yesterday but were still too good for Derby, whose own European dream is fading after four defeats in five.
A 36th-minute header by Mark Hughes - recalled at the expense of player- coach Gianluca Vialli - was enough to earn Vialli his first away win in the Premiership since replacing Ruud Gullit. It was also the first time this season that Chelsea have returned from an away match in Europe and not suffered a defeat in the League.
Given that the Coca-Cola Cup has guaranteed their place in Europe next season, Chelsea's interest in their remaining Premiership fixtures is somewhat academic. Vialli's concern is much more with protecting the fitness of key players for the return match against Vicenza on Thursday week.
This explained for the most part the absence of seven of those who started the 1-0 semi-final first leg defeat in Italy last week, although Dennis Wise is suspended and Ed de Goey dropped out by pre-planned rotation. Only Dan Petrescu, Frank Leboeuf, Steve Clarke and Roberto Di Matteo retained their places yesterday, which meant rare starts for Jody Morris and Andy Myers among others, and a debut on the left wing for 18-year-old Lilleshall graduate Jon Harley.
None the less, Hughes and Tore Andre Flo hardly represented a second- rate attack and when the former, released by Di Matteo, skimmed the crossbar on the half-hour it was Chelsea's second near miss. Earlier, Di Matteo had tried to score from the half-way line after spotting Russell Hoult off his line.
The decisive goal arrived shortly afterwards. After feeding possession to Harley, Hughes peeled away to the far post to meet the youngster's cross, outjumping Jacob Laursen to send a header beyond Hoult for his ninth goal of the campaign. It was a fine goal to cap a splendid performance by the 34-year-old, who was an inspiration to those around him in a team effort that delighted Vialli.
"At the end of a very hard week the players made me very proud," he said. "They also gave me great confidence for the future, knowing I have good players in my squad who can do so well when I need them."
Derby wanted desperately to redeem themselves after losing 5-0 at home to Leeds last month. However, even with Dean Sturridge back after suspension and deadline-day signing Lars Bohinen making his home debut, Derby were comfortably held by Chelsea's makeshift line-up. Derby lacked the precision that characterised their early-season form. Time is running out if they are to achieve their ambition.
Goal: Hughes (37) 0-1.
Derby County (4-3-1-2): Hoult; Delap, Rowett, Laursen (Hunt, h-t), C Powell; Dailly, Carsley, Bohinen (Solis, 86); Baiano (Burton, 71); Sturridge, Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Willems, Poom (gk).
Chelsea (3-1-4-2): Kharine; Myers, Leboeuf, Granville; Clarke (Charvet, 77); Petrescu, Di Matteo, Morris, Harley (Harley 83); Hughes, Flo (Nicholls, 71). Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Lee.
Referee: J Winter (Cleveland).
Booking: Chelsea: Granville.
Man of the match: Hughes.Reuse content