Football / Premier League: Beasant adds to Bridge repair scheme

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The Independent Online
DANGEROUS thing, collective chanting - it can conjure up the wrong spirits. So it was at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, when Chelsea's fans called for David Mellor, and got Peter in disguise.

Like the hapless Fulham goalkeeper, whose career was blighted by his costly mistakes in the 1975 Cup final, Dave Beasant will not be forgiven for gifting Norwich City two goals and a 3-2 win.

Beasant has been in butter-fingered form since the season started, and had presented Liverpool with their winner the previous week. His latest whoops-a-daisy routine was the final straw for Ian Porterfield, the Chelsea manager, who was left 'shell-shocked.'

Porterfield's team had been leading 2-0, apparently on course to dethrone the Premier League leaders, when their goalkeeper cut the legs from under them. If the manager has his way, Beasant will not play for the club again. Kevin Hitchcock, the second string, is injured, so the search for a replacement starts today. Another big- money buy, presumably. Another new face to fit in.

That Chelsea need a more reliable goalkeeper is beyond question, but the more new players they bring in, the longer it will take for all the strangers to gel as a unit, and thirtysomethings like Mal Donaghy, Nigel Spackman and Mick Harford do not have time on their side.

Spackman has not been away that long, yet not one of the players in Saturday's team was at Stamford Bridge when he left. Capricious buyers (and sellers), Chelsea have never been big on continuity, and tend to suffer by comparison with those who are.

Which brings us to the leaders. Norwich sell when they have to (or rather when it suits their chairman to say so), but successive managers have been clever enough to retain a strong nucleus around which to rebuild. Gunn, Culverhouse, Butterworth, Bowen and Crook have all been at Carrow Road for at least five years. For Chelsea, only Gareth Hall, an in- and-out product of the youth system, scrapes into that category.

Unsurprisingly, Norwich were able to dig deep into a well established all-for-one spirit, and looked more like a team the longer the game went on. Chelsea, their confidence undermined by Beasant's blunders, simply fell apart, one stranger glancing at another with a bewildered expression which said: 'What the hell is going on here?'

They may hold it together long enough for a decent run in one of the cup competitions, but they can safely be discounted as championship contenders.

The same probably applies to Norwich, although the top six finish, and qualification for Europe, which was their pre-season target, may not be beyond them.

They still pass the ball around nicely, as one would expect of any side with Crook at its fulcrum, but Mike Walker, the new manager, has added a combative edge, as well as making them more direct in the last third of the field.

'For the last two or three years,' he said, 'we have been a good passing side, but perhaps we have over-passed around the penalty area instead of getting shots in. We'd have 90 per cent of a game and lose 1-0, without having a shot. The reason we bought Mark Robins is that he has a go and scores goals.'

Indeed he does - six in as many matches since he was bought from Manchester United for pounds 800,000 to replace Robert Fleck. Fleck, incidentally, has scored one in seven since joining Chelsea for pounds 2.1m, and had to endure a good deal of ribbing from his erstwhile fans, who had all the stats at their fingertips.

His successor at the leading edge of the Norwich attack looks a natural, and could easily embarrass Alex Ferguson by outscoring anyone at Old Trafford. One of his goals on Saturday was bequeathed courtesy of Beasant's moribund hands but, like all strikers, he will tell you that he had to be there to score it.

His second was rather more impressive, Rob Newman muscling Donaghy off the ball before crossing from the right for Robins to apply an emphatic, sidefoot finish.

That tied it up at 2-2 with a quarter of an hour left, a situation in which most teams, playing away, would settle for a point. Norwich, though, are the strongest finishers in the League at present - witness their four second-half goals at Highbury - and, far from winding down, they sent on a winger, Daryl Sutch, in place of Crook, and went for the kill.

Enterprise had its reward, albeit a bizarre one, 10 minutes from the end. Lucky was the only word for the winner, which saw Dave Phillips's innocuous 25-yarder bobble under Beasant's dive, but Walker has been encouraging his players to shoot more often, and seized eagerly upon this improbable success to support the time-honoured theory that 'if you don't buy a ticket, you can't win the raffle'.

Chelsea had bought in through Harford, set up at close range by Fleck's run, and Andy Townsend, whose rip-snorter followed a dinky little pass from Dennis Wise, but Beasant left them clutching the booby prize.

'Every time they attacked, I thought they would score,' a crest-fallen Porterfield said. 'I have tried to be fair to Dave Beasant, but we can't afford the mistakes he is making. The time has come when we have got to make a change. He probably needs a change as much as we do.'

A couple of boobs and you're out? No wonder that the Shed's favourite minister was looking subdued.

Goals: Harford (2) 1-0; Townsend (28) 2-0; Robins (47) 2-1; Robins (75) 2-2; Phillips (80) 2-3.

Chelsea: Beasant; Hall, Barness, Townsend (Stuart, 75), Lee, Donaghy, Newton, Fleck, Harford, Spackman, Wise. Substitutes not used: Spencer, Colgan (gk).

Norwich City: Gunn; Culverhouse, Bowen, Polston, Sutton, Megson, Crook (Sutch, 77), Newman, Robins, Goss, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Woodthorpe, Walton (gk).

Referee: K Barratt (Coventry).