Football: Zola unzips Dons

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 3

Zola 32, Poyet 55, Petrescu 70

Wimbledon 0

Attendance: 34,757

CHELSEA'S FOREIGN legion laid waste to whatever ambitions Wimbledon may have brought across the Thames by proving that they have the class to push seriously for honours this season.

Conducted by the magical Gianfranco Zola, Chelsea unfurled their full repertoire of party tricks, flips and back-heels but when it mattered still had the ruthless streak that allowed them to wound fatally.

Chelsea still had a spring in their step after their midweek 5-0 trouncing of Arsenal in the Worthington Cup, a result which has paired these two London rivals together in the quarter-finals of that competition. Chelsea certainly seized the psychological edge.

Zola had rattled the visitors' woodwork before he opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, the little Sardinian grabbing his opportunity after he had skipped beyond Alan Kimble on the right, and other chances swiftly followed.

Only an intervention by Kenny Cunningham stopped Gustavo Poyet adding a second minutes later when, again, Zola had carved the opening. Wimbledon struggled, mainly because of a lack of inches in their defence, which turned Tore Andre Flo into a double threat when Chelsea moved forward.

In the early minutes of the second half there was a danger of matters degenerating into a London derby rumble as Andy Roberts and Robbie Earle were booked. But Chelsea kept their cool and increased their lead in the 55th minute with a textbook goal. The ball flowed to Dan Petrescu on the right and, as the Romanian perused his options, Poyet moved into space on the edge of the box. The pass was perfect, as was the Uruguayan's shot which flew high into the net.

Fifteen minutes later another flash of Zola's brilliance brought Chelsea's third. His pass unzipped the Dons' defence to clear the way for Petrescu and, although Ben Thatcher did manage a blocking tackle, Petrescu gathered the rebound to slot his shot coolly beyond Neil Sullivan.

Sullivan had been his side's saviour on more than one occasion - especially a memorable first-half dive to thwart Petrescu - and as it looked in danger of turning into a rout, he distinguished himself again.

A 67th-minute string of substitutions when Wimbledon brought on Dean Blackwell, Efan Ekoku and Carl Leaburn did steady the visitors' nerves but it was too late to seriously affect the outcome.