Panucci secures slim Chelsea advantage

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The Independent Football

The old manager may have gone, but there was no discernible difference in the new Chelsea as they made hard work of this victory in the first leg of their first-round Uefa Cup tie against a side that had nothing to boast about except being Switzerland's oldest club. Yet it was Chelsea who were showing their age and creaking at the joints, making sure that they remain as hard to define as ever.

The old manager may have gone, but there was no discernible difference in the new Chelsea as they made hard work of this victory in the first leg of their first-round Uefa Cup tie against a side that had nothing to boast about except being Switzerland's oldest club. Yet it was Chelsea who were showing their age and creaking at the joints, making sure that they remain as hard to define as ever.

Last season they were tearing apart Barcelona in the Champions' League, yet St Gallen will return with their confidence hugely bolstered for the second leg, which will be played in Zurich in two weeks' time. Organised, and crowding the Chelsea players wherever they went, they only let their hosts have one chance on goal in the second half, Jörg Stiel diving to his left to keep out a side-footed Marcel Desailly shot four minutes from time.

Maybe it was the fuel crisis, maybe it was the lack of big-name opponents. Whatever the reason, Stamford Bridge was barely half-full. If their sacked manager, Gianluca Vialli, was watching, he no doubt would have been clutching at those excuses for the lack of support for him coming from the stands.

Remarkable as it may seem, the 500 travelling fans from Switzerland, complete with green wigs to match their team's strip, comfortably outsung their Chelsea counterparts on a night that, in terms of atmosphere, resembled something of a wake for the deposed Italian.

In the two days since Vialli was relieved of his duties with a bear-hug from the Chelsea chairman, Ken Bates, the talk, from the players and staff at least, has been about getting on with the job. Everyone else has been talking about who is going to get the job. Bates, in his programme notes, ruled out the possibility of George Graham or Terry Venables, whom he termed "the inevitable twins", managing the club they once played for. Maybe twins would be a good idea for a job that Bates claimed had become the subject of so much pressure and speculation that it had become "almost impossible".

However, with team selection forced upon him suddenly, Chelsea's caretaker-manager, Graham Rix, sprung two surprises in his line-up by including the midfielder Sam Dalla Bona for his full first-team debut and going for an attacking three-man strike force, reinstating Gianfranco Zola against the Swiss champions.

After a slow start, and with St Gallen hardly getting out of their own half, first Tore Andre Flo went close, then Roberto Di Matteo did so with a volley, before Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink hit the post after 23 minutes with a low free-kick. A minute later the Blues had the lead they deserved when a Dennis Wise pass cut open the defence and Christian Panucci ran on to lob the goalkeeper for his first goal for the club.

Comfortable though proceedings had been for Chelsea in the first half, they came close to conceding an equaliser within seconds of the restart. The Ghanaian striker and last year's Swiss Player of the Year, Charles Amoah, worked his way to the byline only for Luiz Jairo to arrive fractions late for what would have been a tap-in. And the Swiss side, who were nearly as cosmopolitan as Chelsea in their line-up, which included Brazilians, Africans and Italians, continued to make the running in the second half.

Perhaps Chelsea had forgotten that the Uefa Cup, unlike the Champions' League in its early phase, is a knock-out competition. They failed to apply any consistent pressure and, with 54 minutes gone, Sascha Müller went close to scoring a potentially dangerous away goal with an audacious 40-yard lob that went just over the crossbar.

Chelsea (4-3-3) Cudicini; Panucci, Leboeuf, Desailly, Le Saux; Wise, Di Matteo, Dalla Bona (Morris, 73); Zola, Flo (Gudjohnsen, 73), Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Bogarde, Melchiot, Ferrer, Harley.

St Gallen (4-5-1) Stiel; Imhof, Zwyssig, Zellweger, Dal Santo; Winkler, Müller, Jairo, Guido, Nixon; Amoah. Substitutes not used: Alder (gk), Contini, Gane, Eugster, Alder, Colacino, Didi, Dino.

Referee: V E Torres (Spain).

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