Chelsea find salvation waiting in wings

Chelsea 4 Notts County 2
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The Independent Football

Comparisons of health and wealth were unavoidable. Football's richest club against its oldest and poorest. Abramovich versus administration. A wage bill for the visitors which would not cover the cost of diamond ear-studs in the Chelsea squad. But the bling-bling were given a ding-dong. Chelsea say they want to win this cup but they showed an insouciance which was, at times, insufferable.

County need £3m by 9 December, the same day that Chelsea play their final Champions' League Group match. If not, the club will probably be expelled, 139 years and two days after they were formed. That is 41 years before Chelsea. The Second Division club's supporters asked for all the gate receipts - about £450,000. Instead Chelsea gave the shirts off their backs - for auction that is. They almost donated the match as well.

"We did not play a great game and we were never going to come out winners in a tie like that," said the Chelsea striker Eidur Gudjohnsen afterwards. "People nowadays when they come and watch Chelsea expect fireworks." A few more sparks would have sufficed.

Claudio Ranieri made seven changes but included £45m of summer signings. The County squad cost around £500,000 which would buy a fraction of Joe Cole, maybe his posterior which once more warmed the bench. He did not sit comfortably. Chelsea began poorly and got worse. Juan Sebastian Veron again lost his compass. True, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink thumped them into the lead with a trademark swerving, 30-yard drive but before that Glen Johnson had hacked off the line from the impressive Paul Heffernan. County then equalised.

Darren Caskey's corner was flicked on by the giant Clive Platt and Tony Barras joyfully volleyed in. "It's just like watching Juve," sang the 3,000 visiting fans. It was deserved although parity survived only eight minutes. Johnson's cross was easily met by the stooping Gudjohnsen.

Nevertheless Ranieri must have been furious - especially with his centre-backs, Mario Melchiot and Robert Huth who were startlingly second best. Caskey, a former Tottenham Hotspur player but now more than a little weighty, was ascendant. If anything the pressure grew. A series of free-kicks were won and the ball thundered around. The Premiership side's weapon was their wingers - the incisive Damien Duff, in particular. Chances came and went, but finally Jesper Gronkjaer proved too quick. As the Dane burst on to Johnson's pass, he was caught by the goalkeeper. Gudjohnsen took the penalty.

Still, County would not wilt. The ineptitude in the home defence was exposed again and they almost conceded a copy of the first goal. This time a flicked-on corner evaded Mark Stallard. Just. As County pushed, Gudjohnsen broke. His shot returned off the bar. Back came the black-and-whites. The ball was hoisted in and Stallard jumped with the debutant Marco Ambrosio who spilled it. The referee, rightly, waved play on and the substitute tapped home.

Cole punctured the renewed hope when he picked up Duff's parried shot. Finally, County were beaten. "I thought we deserved a result," said their manager, Billy Dearden. "We're not a bad little team." He was right. It must be hoped that they will have more luck in the battle to come.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Ambrosio; Johnson, Melchiot, Huth, Babayaro; Gronkjaer (Cole, 69), Veron, Geremi, Duff; Gudjohnsen, Hasselbaink (Stanic, 46). Substitutes not used: Sullivan (gk), Stanic, Lampard, Bridge, Cole.

Notts County (4-4-2): Mildenhall; Jenkins, Fenton, Barras, Richardson (Nicholson, 79); Baldry, Caskey, Baraclough, Riley; Heffernan, (Stallard, 65) Platt. Substitutes not used: Garden (gk), Stallard, Nicholson, Bolland, Hackworth.

Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville).

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