Football: Zola zest revives Chelsea

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 2

Zola 12, Vialli 55

Everton 2

Branch 17, Kanchelskis 28

Attendance: 28,418

The feeling that these were a couple of sides sharing the prospect of ending the season with more clubs below them than above, but nothing better than that, prevailed at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Yet the turmoil, excitement and fine goals that created a thoroughly worthwhile afternoon's entertainment suggested that wherever they finish there will be plenty of thrills along the journey.

Early-season hype about the championship possibilities of both them was always a matter of over-reaction to some good late summer results that, come winter, predictably turned into just the sort of struggles that had recently seen Chelsea's defence look brittle against Leeds and Everton's attack fail to show against Sunderland following that so-conspicuous seven- goal win over Southampton. They are both still capable of finishing in the top half-dozen, but sixth place would hint of flattery.

Without Mark Hughes to stabilise his attack, Ruud Gullit decided to do the holding role while telling Michael Duberry to take care of Everton's most threatening front man, Duncan Ferguson. Not that pre-planned tactics were important to Chelsea's early advantage that came when, after only 11 minutes, Joe Parkinson brought down Dennis Wise some 25 yards out and Gianfranco Zola bent an outstanding free-kick beyond Neville Southall.

Until then, Duberry had been confidently subduing Ferguson, but Everton's need for a quick reply was superbly answered by the big striker who climbed high to meet Andy Hinchcliffe's cross and headed down for Gary Speed to line up the 18-year-old Michael Branch to slip in his first goal for the club, confirming his potential as a prospective England international after graduating from the FA's School of Excellence.

The outcome was a rousing game. Gullit himself should have put Chelsea ahead but misdirected a three-yard opportunity from Duberry's centre. From there Everton took the lead when Ferguson's centre was surprisingly missed by Scott Minto, allowing Andrei Kanchelskis ample time to slide the ball under Frode Grodas.

With Kanchelskis and Ferguson constantly offering Everton speed and power, much depended on Gullit's composure and the ingenuity of Zola to ensure that Chelsea would go into the second half fully focused on something more than mere recovery. Zola particularly brought about that possibility when, after 54 minutes, he took possession deep in his own half and, on the run, exchanged passes with Gullit before speeding on to near the goal- line and pulling the ball back for the Vialli to head in virtually unopposed.

By bringing on Craig Burley at half-time, Chelsea added a substantial strength to their midfield support for the front three. This led to Zola bouncing a corner off the crossbar after a period of relentless Chelsea pressure, Vialli swinging a 12-yard shot a fraction wide, Gullit also clipping the crossbar, and Chelsea generally having a collection of chances. Vialli was on the end of many of them without converting any. Nevertheless, Chelsea had the bulk of sightings of goal without ever having the whole game under control.

The home side still looked as if they might eke out victory, but when Dan Petrescu headed their last chance into a small gap at the near post, there was Southall to grasp the ball and so hold Everton's share of the points.