Chelsea: League of their own

Curbishley's concerns over the great divide are brought home as Chelsea untouchables stretch their lead to six points
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The Independent Football

If it was Robben who offered a glimspe of hope to the chasing pack by becoming, along with Ricardo Carvalho and now Joe Cole, one of the Stamford Bridge dissidents who dared to question Jose Mourinho's management of his hugely talented squad, then it was the Dutchman yesterday who slammed the door on Charlton's hopes of slowing Chelsea's progress. Damien Duff - Cole's chief rival for a role on the left of midfield - set up Robben and he deftly made it 2-0 with a curling shot that virtually assured that Chelsea would finish the day with six victories out of six.

Charlton and their manager, Alan Curbishley, at least had some satisfaction in holding the champions in the first half. They finally surrendered 11 minutes after the interval when Radostin Kishishev lost the ball and Michael Essien chipped a pass that Crespo headed home.

The goal - and the match - underlined Curbishley's fears that the Premiership will become uncompetitive if Chelsea continue to move for the best players available, saying that the Stamford Bridge club's near- successful attempt to lure Steven Gerrard away from Liverpool, the newly-crowned European champions, was breathtaking. Essien was signed late this summer for £24.4m while Crespo was acquired in August 2003 for £16.8m, loaned out to Milan last season as surplus to requirements, but brought back this summer. After the second goal went in, Mourinho brought on £45m-worth of substitutes in Didier Drogba and Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Steve Clarke, Mourinho's assistant, made it all sound so matter of fact. "There's no comfortable victories in the Premier League," he said. "The first half was an even game. At half-time we had a little word with the lads and asked them to step up a gear - and I think it showed in the second half that we were on top. When you know you're in the ascendancy, you have to kill the game at that moment - and we did that."

Curbishley was resigned to the outcome, albeit from an opposite standpoint. "We'll take it on the chin," he said. "They've got so many match-winners and look how hard they work. It's a massive squad and the only problem is fitting them all on the bus."

If a manager who has been talked of as a candidate to be the next England supremo can be left that deflated, then all Premiership managers could regain some sense of perspective by considering a man who has been an international coach. Mick McCarthy, once in charge of the Republic of Ireland, had his suffering at Sunderland cranked up another notch. A first point of the season should have made him happy but the manner of the draw with West Bromwich was depressing. His side led through Gary Breen's goal until 20 seconds from the end when Zoltan Gera equalised.