Football: Laudrup provides a dash of class

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 2

Pallister og 46, Zola 81

Middlesbrough 0

Attendance: 34,811

IF EVER a scoreline could have been predicted, it was this one. Beaten by the same margin and by the same opposition in two recent Wembley finals Middlesbrough fell yesterday to a Gary Pallister own goal and late clincher from Gianfranco Zola.

Ruud Gullit may have coined the phrase "sexy football" but Chelsea showed they can be just as flirtatious under Gianluca Vialli. Boro will claim they deserved more and, in truth, until Pallister deflected Brian Laudrup's cross-shot past Mark Schwarzer 43 seconds after half-time, Bryan Robson's team had defended stoutly.

After the goal, Chelsea, who had dominated possession throughout the first half without finding a way through, were a delight to watch. Their second goal, scored when Zola ran on to Gustavo Poyet's pass and lobbed the keeper with six minutes left, put a more realistic scoreline on proceedings.

Laudrup was brilliant, his clever link-up play and accurate crossing stretching Boro to the limits. On the rare occasions he wasn't involved, Zola took over. So in command were Chelsea that Vialli could substitute Laudrup with 15 minutes left. By then Boro were well beaten.

Before yesterday's game, Vialli had been quick to denounce those who had criticised his multi-national squad for lacking commitment. This particular starting line-up contained no less than 10 overseas players - the exception being Graeme Le Saux - but they had the look of neither lazy foreigners nor rich mercenaries.

Although Boro created sporadic chances they had five players booked trying to keep Chelsea out at the other end. One of them was Paul Gascoigne, whose reckless challenge on Zola in the 44th minute brought a crescendo of abuse from another full house.

If there was one criticism of Chelsea it was the continued ineptitude in front of goal of their record signing, Pierluigi Casiraghi. The pounds 5.3m Italian again failed to impress and was replaced at half-time by Tore- Andre Flo. Why Vialli continues to keep his dangerous Norwegian on the bench, heaven only knows. Flo's first contribution was a 25-yard volley that had Schwarzer sprawling to his left. It was significant that, just as against Blackburn last Monday, Chelsea won the game after Flo had come on.

A dejected Robson conceded his team played as if they wanted no more than a draw. "You cannot go into a match with that attitude. We kept building up pressure on ourselves," he said. But he refused to criticise Gascoigne, who showed glimpses of ability in the first half but tired quickly thereafter. "In the last three games he's been outstanding," he added.

Vialli declined to single out any of his players for special praise although he acknowledged Laudrup's contribution and that of Flo in the second-half. After watching his team win their fourth game in succession, the likeable player-coach said no one was getting carried away.

"When you think you have achieved something, there's always something else round the corner. If you get sloppy because you think you are the best you get punished."