Football: Zola's showing offers hope

Chelsea 3 Everton 1 Zola 25, 81, Petrescu 60 Jeffers 69 Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 34,909
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The Independent Online
CHELSEA kept alive their faint hopes of Premiership glory, thanks mainly to Gianfranco Zola, whose two goals merely underlined their supremacy.

Reports of Everton's better health seem exaggerated. They rarely threatened and are still not mathematically clear of the threat of relegation.

Following three successive draws which, according to their manager Gianluca Vialli, had put them out of the running for the title, Chelsea were due a crowd-lifting performance. Using their "terrier squad" of the diminutive Zola, Dennis Wise and Jody Morris as the fulcrum, Chelsea dominated the midfield and overran the Everton defence in a one-sided opening 45 minutes.

With Tore Andre Flo given a place on the bench after his midweek two- goal performance for Norway, the red-headed Mikael Forssell was given a chance up front and he profited from the stream of openings provided by his midfield.

Forssell caught Craig Short in possession early on to put Everton in deep trouble but Zola overran the ball as he closed in for a shot. Within a minute the Italian conjured a Wise pass on to his left foot and bent it just wide. With all the space he needed, Graeme Le Saux was foraging away down the left to get in crosses, though he tended to put too much welly into the efforts. But one run, set in motion by Zola's canny ball, saw Le Saux's centre reach Wise, whose shot was deflected by an Everton boot out of the reach of Thomas Mhyre but over the bar.

Then, with Everton pulling everybody back to the barricades, Zola netted but the linesman's flag was raised for offside. Then Gustavo Poyet's header glanced wide from an Albert Ferrer cross as Chelsea gained a succession of corners.

The inevitable goal arrived in the 25th minute, started by Le Saux's rampaging. The full-back exchanged passes with Forssell before making ground down the left. This time the cross was perfectly flighted for Zola to lift his total of goals for the season to 14 with a downward header.

It should have been 2-0 a couple of minutes later. Great work by Morris allowed Wise to slide a glorious through-ball to Dan Petrescu who delayed his effort long enough to permit Mhyre to make a smothering save.

Everton belatedly cheered their raucous following when the captain, Don Hutchison, found Francis Jeffers but the cross-shot was poorly directed.

However, Everton ended the half under siege, with Richard Dunne's crucial intervention blocking Zola and then David Weir heading away from his own line.

Chelsea picked up after the interval where they had left off and Petrescu was guilty of another miss when Zola's cross found him alone in front of goal but his attempt at a header failed to connect. Proof that Chelsea, despite their domination, could not afford to cast away chances was forthcoming when Jeffers found space for a shot which flew narrowly wide of De Goey's right-hand upright.

But the security Chelsea sought became available just after the hour. Franck Leboeuf strode through from the midfield and let fly with a drive so powerful Mhyre was glad to beat it away.

Unfortunately for the Everton keeper the ball rolled only as far as Zola. The Italian returned it into the goal area where Petrescu, at full stretch, this time managed to make a connection. In fact, Petrescu overstretched, and was withdrawn at once with what looked like a groin strain, to be replaced by Bjarne Goldbaek.

With 20 minutes left Jeffers lifted his side's hopes of the point. He was allowed to run through from virtually the halfway line and drove a left-foot shot low which left De Goey stranded.

Chelsea moved up a gear. Forssell allowed Myhre time to block after an enterprising run had carried him clear, then Unsworth saved Everton with a fine blocking tackle as the substitute Bernard Lambourde came storming through.

But there was no halting Chelsea. Another free-kick was won and this time Zola took it, striking it sweetly into the top left-hand corner of Mhyre's net.

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