They haven't had much fun here since Jeremy Goss and Co made fools of Bayern Munich. And as the Norwich regulars made for home inwardly cursing that Nigel Worthington's team hadn't quite claimed the fourth-round place their second-half performance merited, they might also have reflected that Chelsea were given a rather more searching examination yesterday than either Liverpool and Manchester United had managed in recent weeks.
The London side's embarr-assment was spared by the breathtaking reactions of their goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini as Chelsea closed ranks after yet another off-field incident, typical of the kind which has too frequently tarnished the name of the club and seems adversely to have affected performances, too.
Chelsea's central defender and England candidate John Terry was restricted to a place on the bench, though he appeared in the second half, having been arrested on Thursday night and taken to Belgravia police station after an incident at a London nightclub. Having spent 16 hours in custody, he was released only at midnight on Friday and now faces charges of affray and causing actual bodily harm. His manager, Claudio Ranieri, would not comment directly on the case but said: "I had no worries about John Terry. He's a good man. He played very well in the second half."
For Chelsea's sake, it is as well that he did. It has been nearly six years since the Canaries departed the Premiership and European arena and yesterday's admirable performance, despite having the injured striker Iwan Roberts and cup-tied David Nielsen missing, served merely to emphasise just what the faithful had been missing.
Cudicini twice denied substitute Mark Rivers in quick succession when it seemed that the former Crewe forward must transform a barnstorming second-half display by the hosts into a victorious one. "Cudicini kept Chelsea in the Cup," reflected Worthington, who celebrates his first anniv-ersary here this month. "It was a terrific game, and if you'd offered me 0-0 beforehand I'd have accepted it. But as it is, I'm disappointed. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is a world-class striker, yet our defence shackled him well."
In truth, you cannot imagine that Ranieri would have been utterly heartbroken. The Italian made it apparent in midweek that he did not rate overcoming the Canaries high in his pecking order, so to speak, of priorities this season. Wednesday's Worthington Cup semi-final first leg, when Chelsea meet Tottenham, with the chance of Europe in the offing, takes precedence, although the FA Cup replay on Wednesday week means that Ranieri's side will have played nine games this month if they progress to the next round.
That is by no means certain after a fitful exhibition from the visitors, who were devoid of their usual poise and strutting style. They rarely looked capable of overcoming the team who are fourth in the Nationwide First Division and who harried them mercilessly. Ranieri admitted: "Norwich are a good team. I think they will win promotion. Cudicini saved us on four occasions."
Ranieri reshaped his team, partly with that Worthington tie in mind and partly to take account of Terry's circumstan-ces. It meant a recall for captain Marcel Desailly. There was also a rare appearance this season for the Spaniard Albert Ferrer while Mikael Forssell featured in a three-man forward line with Gianfranco Zola and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. With Frank Lampard on the bench, Chelsea started with one English player, Graeme Le Saux, in the side.
The last time Norwich played a "foreign" side was against Internazionale in the 1993-94 Uefa Cup. But decline followed that famous season in which they beat Bayern Munich at the Olympic stadium. But otherwise they continue to do things with the touch of style that you would expect from a club whose principal shareholder is Delia Smith. Meat pies were being eagerly consumed before the game. Not just ordinary pies, of course. Lamb and mint was the speciality of the day.
On the pitch, the home side could not offer a front line to compare with that of their illustrious counterparts. Rob-erts' absence through injury meant that the former Manchester United apprentice Alex Notman, who has been a substitute for most of the season and has yet to score, linked up with the Frenchman Marc Libbra. After a nervous beginning, Norwich retained their shape and composure well. But that lack of a cutting edge was all too apparent, and Cudicini was barely troubled.
Not that the first half was one which Chelsea will have particularly enjoyed, either. Malky Mackay and his fellow centre-back Craig Fleming gave Hasselbaink, playing without his regular accomplice in recent weeks, Eidur Gudjohnsen, who was being rested, few sights of goal. On the few occasions they fashioned opportunities, the Blues' finishing was woeful. Hasselbaink thumped the ball wide when he might have prospered in the early minutes, then Desailly headed over from directly in front of goal from Le Saux's free-kick.
Terry was greeted with a chorus of derision as he repl-aced Desailly after the break. Mario Melchiot also came on for Ferrer. It was seven minutes after half-time before Norwich finally forced Cudicini into serious action for the first time, Mark McVeigh cutting in and from an angle forcing a fine save from the Italian. It evidently gave Norwich a craving for more.
When Melchiot gave the ball away to Libbra, his scintillating run deep into the heart of the visitors' defence was foiled by William Gallas. As the ball ran loose, both McVeigh and Notman were thwarted by Cudicini. The latter, a Scottish Under-21 international, was also involved when he fed an astute ball to Steen Nedergaard. Terry did not effectively clear his cross and Darren Kenton brought Cudicini into action with a shot that stung his fingers.
With 10 minutes left, substitute Rivers broke through, beating off two challenges, but having saved once spectacularly, Cudicini picked himself up to foil the same player. All Chelsea had to show for their second-half possession was a full-blooded drive by Le Saux which just eluded Robert Green's crossbar and a Forssell header which suffered the same fate, from Zola's cross.
By the end, Chelsea were relieved to survive. They will now surely progress. But for Norwich the performance was a measure of their progress since Worthington's appointment. On this evid-ence, they can go far.
Norwich City 0 Chelsea 0
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