Football: Hughes sparks Chelsea

Crystal Palace 0 Chelsea 3 M Hughes 20, Leboeuf pen 26, Le Saux 90 Attendance: 26,186
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Chelsea continued to gorge themselves yesterday on the tastier morsels which have bobbed up from the First Division. While the scoreline here did not quite match the 6-0 feeding frenzy at Barnsley, this win was no less comprehensive in its execution as was achieved without the services of Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo and Gianluca Vialli. The last-named's warm-up routine lasted for most of the second half but Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit failed to take the hint and settled for a mere 3-0.

Crystal Palace's spirit was broken during an exhilarating 20-minute spell in the first half, where their technique was cruelly exposed by a rampant, fluent, high-speed Chelsea. Dennis Wise and Dan Petrescu were the architects of this footballing lesson as they alternated patient possession play with passes which repeatedly opened up the Palace defence.

Palace might have weathered this period if it was not for the pace and the angles of the supporting players' attacking runs. As it was, they simply looked bewildered and conceded two goals. The first arose from a pin-point long pass by Franck Leboeuf, which Mark Hughes latched on to and dispatched past Kevin Miller on the volley. The second was more characteristic of the passage of play; Wise burst into space and passed to Petrescu, who was brought down in the area as he completed a quickfire one-two with Hughes. Leboeuf's driven penalty was too much for Miller, who otherwise did much to spare Palace's blushes with a committed and brave display throughout the match.

Thereafter up to the interval, Chelsea seemed to be able to create chances at will. The best of these fell to Graeme Le Saux, who almost had too much time on the left edge of the area. He produced a dipping drive which shuddered the post and shot to safety across the face of the goal.

Le Saux did eventually get on the scoresheet in almost identical circumstances in the final minute. His shot again hit the post but this time deflected in past Miller.

Palace battled gamely in the second half when their best chances fell to Bruce Dyer and his replacement, Dougie Freedman, who replaced Dyer early in the second half. Dyer had a chance for an instant equaliser but headed wide while Freedman forced an agile, low save from Ed de Goey in the 70th minute.

Gullit professed himself to be "very pleased" with Chelsea's performance and reiterated his belief in the motivational qualities inherent in a squad system. "The boys [Zola and Di Matteo] had a long trip to Georgia," he said. "And I decided to rest them. But it makes me proud how the youngsters Mark Nicholls and Paul Hughes performed. If you are on the pitch and see what's on the bench it motivates you to play better."

By contrast, Steve Coppell could only drool from the sidelines at Chelsea's superfluity of talent. "You look at the team sheet and see their substitutes and you know you are in trouble," he said. "But they are very, very good and it makes me envious that they can go out and spend four or five million on a player ... it is no coincidence that the top sides have squads of 20."