FOOTBALL: No home banker on Chelsea's return

TREVOR HAYLETT
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The Independent Online
BY TREVOR HAYLETT

This is a strange, erratic season for Glenn Hoddle to evaluate. His Chelsea team are within reach of a place in the semi-finals of the Cup- Winners' Cup, while still searching for their best form, both at home and abroad. For that reason it is not easy to predict with any confidence how their return with Club Bruges in two weeks' time will go.

Just as they had in both Czechoslovakia and Austria in the previous rounds, Chelsea defended well in the Olympiastadion on Tuesday night. For 82 minutes that is, until the barricades came down and Gert Verheyen pounded in for a header to give the Belgians the advantage.

Too often those defenders who did their reputations some good proved not nearly so defiant when asked more familiar questions in domestic football. In addition, Chelsea's attacking powers have seldom functioned as they might. Hoddle's summer signings, Paul Furlong and David Rocastle, have been a disappointment and Gavin Peacock has not recaptured his zest and goal-scoring prowess of last season.

The quarter-final tie is finely balanced. A soggy pancake of a pitch was no setting for skilful, passing footballers but although they laboured to press home their advantage there was enough threat in Bruges' understanding and imagination to suggest that the Stamford Bridge game could be equally problematic for Chelsea.

They will have to come out and make the play and that will provide more freedom for Bruges. "We will see a different Chelsea from what we saw here tonight," the Bruges coach, Hugo Broos, said. "They will have to take risks. They played nearly all the game in defence and one goal is a small reward for all the chances we had."

That was in no small part down to Kevin Hitchcock, the replacement goalkeeper who recently signed a new three-and-a half-year contract and who pulled off four splendid saves. He knows that he is likely to be out of Sunday's game with Crystal Palace in favour of Dimitri Kharin, but he is wholly committed to the cause. "I was tempted to go elsewhere but the manager offered me a great contract and I think this club is going places."

An additional worry for Hoddle is that he may be without his skipper and mainstay, Dennis Wise, who on 13 March - the day before the return - could be put behind bars when he appears before Horseferry Magistrates Court having been convicted of common assault and criminal damage.

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