Football: Sunderland sunk by Poyet power

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 4

Poyet 20, 78, Zola 32, Flo 77

Sunderland 0

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 34,831

PETER REID was moved to break his rule never to talk about his opponents. "They gave us a right good hiding," the Sunderland manager revealed. Indeed they did, which Chelsea could take as instant confirmation that they are serious Premiership title contenders or Sunderland may interpret as a sign that they are not going to uproot trees in the top division's forest. It would be difficult to argue with either conclusion.

In spite of their summer investments in Chris Sutton and Didier Deschamps, little in Chelsea's pre-season games offered as much confidence as yesterday's performance, for real, that the major deficiency of last season had been overcome.

Their meagre total of goals (57 to Manchester United's 80) last term finally left them off the pace. Now that their manager, Gianluca Vialli, has decided to stop playing, Sutton must find the target with regularity or be replaced by Tore Andre Flo, who, unsurprisingly in view of his ability, is unhappy at the thought of a season ticket for the bench. Yesterday he came off it late in the game and soon showed Sutton the way to goal.

If Vialli again faces the pressure of expectancy, Reid cannot be totally convinced by the theory that the Sunderland fans will be delighted simply to avoid the familiar up-one-season down-the-next syndrome.

A mid-table position would be much more acceptable and with Stefan Schwartz, the former Arsenal and Valencia player, and Thomas Helmer now in the squad, that is still possible.

"We won't have to play Chelsea every week, thank goodness," Reid said. "They are a pretty exceptional side."

Schwartz was absent yesterday, which was a pity since it was in the midfield area that Dennis Wise, Deschamps and Gustavo Poyet quickly took a tenacious grip.

Poyet, superb throughout, had successive shots blocked by Thomas Sorensen in only the third minute, and Gianfranco Zola's free-kick from three yards outside the penalty area required him to fist over.

Sunderland soon had their eyes opened to the challenge, not only here but for the rest of the season. That they stood the test for 20 minutes was a substantial achievement. Chelsea had been hugely superior in touch and imagination. Steve Bould, making his Sunderland debut, defended in that familiar, solid Arsenal way until Wise placed a corner in front of him but closer to Poyet whose header was unstoppable.

Poyet's accuracy by foot was no less impressive. His cutting pass from the half-way line to put Zola clear after 32 minutes still required something special before the on-rushing Sorensen could be beaten. And special it was as Zola moved into the penalty area, double side-stepped Bould, putting the ball between his legs, drew Sorensen, and calmly placed his shot inside the far post.

Sutton must have been relieved that others were such striking successes, since twice in the approaches to half-time he missed open goals, shooting embarrassingly wide then stumbling over the ball with Sorensen expecting the worst.

Sunderland attempted to play their way out of trouble but, as Reid admitted later, they would have been safer with five in midfield.

Bould controlled Sutton well enough but the rest of the defence never knew from where the next threat would emerge. Zola was typically elusive while Petrescu and Poyet continually slipped into forward positions, confidently leaving Deschamps and Wise to cover rare counters.

Flo was released from the bench in the 73rd minute, replacing Sutton, who had done a holding job well enough but had finished poorly. Flo, with the need to impress, touched the ball only once before he took Chelsea into a three-goal lead. Zola and Petrescu exchanged a couple of neat passes before Petrescu centred and Flo, in front of goal, headed in.

Sunderland's spirit withered in the full appreciation that they were up against a team that are better than most and equal to the best. Faint hopes of keeping the score polite was lost in the 80th minute as Poyet put the final touch to an outstanding performance by dipping a 10-yard volley over Sorensen.