Mourinho fury over Savage

Birmingham City 0 - Chelsea 1
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The Independent Football

Wherever Chelsea finish next May, one thing is certain. Jose Mourinho's penchant for provocation means he will get up the noses of Premiership managers, players and supporters like no one since ... well, since Robbie Savage.

Wherever Chelsea finish next May, one thing is certain. Jose Mourinho's penchant for provocation means he will get up the noses of Premiership managers, players and supporters like no one since ... well, since Robbie Savage.

Mourinho, looking like he had just stepped off the set of a spaghetti western, with a mask of stubble on his dark, brooding face, responded to the victory secured by Joe Cole with another calculated demonstration of shooting from the lip. And the man in his sights was Savage.

The Birmingham ball-winner had laid out Chelsea's Mateja Kezman with an illegal elbow to the face during the second half. Declining even to dignify Savage by using his name, he referred with ill-disguised disgust to "the blond guy".

Mourinho's contempt was justified. The television replays showed that Savage - never sent off in the course of a relentlessly combative career - had laid out the Serbian substitute with a swing of the arm on the referee's "blind" side.

Afterwards, the home camp mounted a damage-limitation exercise. Their record signing, Emile Heskey, said: "I've known Sav a long time. He might be a bit crazy, but he wouldn't do anything like that deliberately."

Steve Bruce, Birmingham's manager, waited to see the footage before saying: "In a sense I didn't have to watch it. We all know what Sav's like. He can be a bit of a pest, but he wouldn't do anything like that on purpose."

Bruce maintained there was "no case to answer". The Football Association's disciplinary panel is likely to think differently. If nothing else, Savage's rush of blood allowed Mourinho to claim the moral high ground after a contest Birmingham could and should have won.

It also provided a distraction from a stuttering display by an already expensive team reinforced by £90m worth of players. New Big 'ead, if Brian Clough will excuse the adaptation, can certainly talk the talk. As Martin O'Neill and Alex Ferguson found in Mourinho's Porto days, he excels in psychology and put-downs.

Walking the walk is another matter, of course, and Chelsea are already where Roman Abramovich's funding demands they must be in 36 matches' time. Yet Saturday offered no compelling evidence that Mourinho's model is better equipped to break the Arsenal-Manchester United duopoly than Claudio Ranieri's.

An adage claims that strikers win matches, whereas defenders win championships. While Chelsea have started with two clean sheets, a flurry of near-misses for Birmingham during the first 45 minutes raised the question as to whether Peter Cech's goal would have remained intact had Abramovich allowed the on-loan Mikael Forssell to face the club that still "owns" him.

Julian Gray spurned two opportunities to show that wingers win matches, too. Heskey wasted another. Mourinho had seen enough. However, his substitutions came into the category of fine-tuning rather than Ranieri-style tinkering.

Tiago, one of three recruits from Portugal, came on to operate efficiently just in front of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, who increasingly began to resemble a seasoned partnership rather than a duo who had never played together.

That still left several striking defects. They included the vulnerability of Paulo Ferreira at right-back, the lack of width and the absence of anyone to pull the strings in midfield, or at least to link that area with the attack.

With Frank Lampard subdued by Savage - ironically, the game's outstanding individual - that was where Joe Cole came in. Or rather, on. For too long the former West Ham prodigy has been a talent in search of a role, substitute having been his most regular one at Stamford Bridge.

Five minutes into a lively cameo, Cole cut in from the left and scored with a right-footed shot that was deflected past Maik Taylor by Martin Taylor.

On paper, Birmingham would appear to be in crisis, having won once in 11 matches since March. In truth, they are, as Bruce observed, "far, far better" than in their first two seasons in the Premiership. Once Forssell and Heskey are in tandem, they will surely settle into a top-10 position.

For Mourinho, only first place will suffice. Having started with a win over Britain's most successful manager, the Portuguese has now got the better of one of the great English hopes. Bruce was neither grudging nor gushing in assessing his adversary, saying: "He'll do what he has to do to win matches.

"I don't think he's remotely bothered about trying to entertain. He's got two 1-0 wins under his belt and he's only been here a week. It's not a bad start."

Goal: Cole (68) 0-1.

Birmingham City (4-3-3): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Martin Taylor, Upson, Lazaridis; Johnson, Izzet, Savage; Gronkjaer (John, 76), Heskey, Gray. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Clemence, Carter, Tebily.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Cech; Paulo Ferreira, Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Bridge; Geremi (J Cole, 63), Makelele, Lampard, Smertin (Tiago, h-t); Gudjohnsen (Kezman, h-t), Drogba. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Gallas.

Referee: B Knight (Kent).

Bookings: None

Man of the Match: Savage.

Attendance: 28,559.

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