Football: Leicester remind Chelsea of work ethic

Leicester City 2 Chelsea 0
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The Independent Online
IN THE euphoric wake of Chelsea's midweek victory over Arsenal, Dennis Wise was holding court outside the players' bar at Stamford Bridge. It was put to him that Chelsea would now go and lose at Leicester. "No, no, we're not like that any more. That was the old Chelsea," he said.

Sure enough Chelsea went to Filbert Street on Saturday and rolled over. It was not that surprising. As Martin O'Neill, the City manager, said afterwards: "Leicester is not one of the places you want to go when you've just qualified for Wembley."

"That," he added, "is a great credit to my players." So it is and there was much talk about being given due credit as Leicester moved into eighth place in the Premiership. "No-one seems to gives us credit for anything," Neil Lennon said. "We're a good footballing side. We should have won by four or five. We are more than just a team of journeymen, it is a myth that all we do is work on corners and set-pieces, it is not just hard work."

True, up to a point. Leicester have cultured players, Garry Parker and the impressive Matt Elliott come to mind while Mustafa Izzet, Steve Guppy, Pontus Kamark and Tony Cottee are intelligent footballers. However, their football is usually effective rather then enervating as Emile Heskey inadvertently indicated when he said, of his partnership with Cottee: "We make different runs so it is easier for our defenders to hit us when they are on the ball."

The coda to this is that midfielders are there to graft rather than pass, especially when Parker is absent injured as on Saturday. It is still Leicester's hard work and organizational discipline which have taken them into contention for Europe and O'Neill may be torn between giving his players recognition and ensuring they do not forget these fundamentals.

Chelsea too often do. They worked ferociously hard on Wednesday but appeared to assume that their superior technical ability would be enough on Saturday. Leicester were thus allowed their first victory over Chelsea in nine years.

"After nights like Wednesday we have to be humble," admitted Graeme Le Saux, "that's what Manchester United are. We have a lot of hard work to do. It will take time to get used to changes." Chelsea have now won two league games in eight and Le Saux added: "It is important not to let the league tail off, we have got to stay in the European placings."

Chelsea did look sluggish and Vialli may have learned one important lesson - do not always take your players' word at face value. "I asked the players yesterday if, physically and mentally, they were prepared for another battle. No-one told me they were tired so I was confident in the team."

Maybe Vialli, who understandably looked as tired as anyone, should have asked Ade Mafe, the former Olympic sprinter who is Chelsea's fitness coach, instead. Chelsea were slower into the tackle and slower in support. The man on the ball always had options on Wednesday, not so at Filbert Street. Luis Del Sol, the watching Real Betis spy, will not have learned too much from this.

Vialli will have. O'Neill, referring to Vialli's pre-match champagne toast during the week, said: "We can't afford to have champagne here very often, you have to find other ways of lifting them. Vialli has been here long enough as a player to realise that there are no easy games and matches come thick and fast. My lot put so much energy into their game that you have to keep giving them a lift.

"People thought we could not go on doing it but we have, for a season and a half. It is the same boys who have kept it going week after week and that's phenomenal. As a manager you can motivate but players have to find something within themselves to keep going."

Chelsea should have no trouble being motivated next week; Manchester United, who humbled them in the FA Cup, are the Saturday morning visitors. Chelsea are 11 points behind the champions and Le Saux admitted: "The title is probably gone, 11 points is too much." Vialli, aware that, if Chelsea win their game in hand and next Saturday, they can cut the gap to five points, refused to concede but Le Saux is probably right. Chelsea no longer appear title contenders.

Their fourth successive away defeat looked likely from the third minute when Heskey, played onside by Le Saux, volleyed in from close range after Lennon had returned Guppy's half-cleared corner. It was not the welcome back Dimitri Kharin, playing his first match since September 1996, would have wanted.

Heskey, in vibrant form, could have scored two or three more before the break as Chelsea, Franck Lebouef apart, were swept aside. They finally tested Pegguy Arphexad just after the hour through Lebouef's free- kick but never justified Vialli's claim that they were "outstanding" in the second period.

Leicester continued to create the better chances and, in the 90th minute, finally scored again. Heskey touched in Guppy's cross after Graham Fenton had won possession in a challenge with Dan Petrescu which typified the difference in approach.

A final word about Paul Durkin, who limbered up for the World Cup with five bookings in 21 first-half minutes. Some might regard him as officious but it is players who break the laws. If they were all as honest as Fenton, who stayed upright when many would have tumbled under Michael Duberry's 77th-minute challenge in the box, the referee's task would be much easier.

Goals: Heskey (2) 1-0; Heskey (89) 2-0.

Leicester City (3-5-2): Arphexad; Prior, Elliot, Kamark (Campbell, 80); Savage (Walsh, 28), Lennon, Zagorakis, Izzet, Guppy; Heskey, Cottee (Fenton, 45). Substitutes not used: Wilson, Andrews (gk).

Chelsea (4-3-3): Kharin; Clarke, Duberry, Leboeuf, Le Saux; Petrescu, Wise, Di Matteo; Zola (Flo, 70), M Hughes, Vialli. Substitutes not used: Lambourde, Newton, Nicholls, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Leicester: Lennon, Izzet. Chelsea: Wise, Di Matteo, Hughes.

Attendance: 21,335.

Man of the match: Heskey.

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