They dominated Wimbledon after the first quarter of an hour but only 13 minutes remained when Dan Petrescu struck the game's lone goal. Is their manager, Gianluca Vialli, worried? "I thought perhaps we might not score," he admitted. "But we played so well and sometimes it is a matter of staying calm. I wasn't frustrated, just happy we were playing well. But we missed so many chances from six or seven yards."
Wimbledon's manager, the amiable Egil Olsen, had a beef in his programme notes about his team not cottoning on to his zonal defence tactics. He started off with two fellow Norwegians at centre-back, Tore Pedersen and Trond Andersen, but was still not happy with the outcome. "We made a lot of mistakes and lacked organisation and shape," he said. "It may be Christmas before we get it right." By then, at this rate, it may be getting a bit late and Olsen knows well enough the perils. "It could happen that we will struggle very much to survive but I like the spirit in the team and, in my opinion, we will survive."
It was that Wimbledon spirit which kept them in with a hope of snatching a draw for so long. Lacking muscle up front in the continued absence of the injured John Hartson, they demanded virtually nothing of Ed de Goey in Chelsea's goal. So woeful did they look in attack that, with less than half an hour gone, Olsen had his strikers Jason Euell and Carl Leaburn warming up. Both eventually came on, but not until the second half.
Vialli again preferred Tore Andre Flo to his pounds 10m man, Chris Sutton, but explained that Sutton was kept on the bench until late in the game because he has a foot problem. With their captain Dennis Wise the lone Englishman in the starting line-up, Chelsea offered lots of admirable build-up stuff, but the desire seemed to be to walk the ball into Neil Sullivan's net and he is far too good a goalkeeper to permit that sort of thing.
Only once did Chelsea contrive a really crisp move in the first half, as Franck Leboeuf's long ball was flicked on by the tireless Gianfranco Zola for Flo to hit a low shot well gathered by Sullivan. Before half- time, Flo, Zola and Petrescu had all just failed to get on the end of inviting through passes.
Wimbledon's defence, reshuffled at half-time because Pedersen, ill all week, was not well enough to resume, was in even deeper trouble in the second half as Chelsea came at them relentlessly, squandering openings as fast as they were created. Wise aimed a close-range jab straight at Sullivan, Zola shot wastefully high after gloriously wrong-footing Alan Kimble and Ben Thatcher with one feint, and Wise headed wide from a fine position.
Then, with the finishing line in sight, Wimbledon were breached. It was Gustavo Poyet who provided the opening, releasing the ball square into space just outside the area, and it was Petrescu who struck it low into the corner of goal. At once Petrescu was taken off because, said Vialli, he was having problems breathing. He was replaced by Gabriele Ambrosetti, a pounds 3.5m signing from Vicenza. "Arsenal and Man United have options in that position, and so have we now," he explained.
Olsen the Honest said afterwards, "We met a better team and deserved to lose, but at 0-0 with 12 minutes to go I thought we had a chance." In the end, they had no more chance than Arsenal have of pursuing their interest in signing Poyet, according to Vialli. "To let Poyet go to Arsenal would be a sign that we are giving up the race," he said. "We want to challenge." That they are eminently capable of, but they could certainly do with some better finishing.Reuse content