Gullit does it all

Chelsea 3 Sinclair 74, Gullit 89, Hughes 90 Southampton 0 Attend ance: 26,237
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The Independent Online
IT WAS the confrontation football's cognoscenti had awaited eagerly, Ruud Gullit's Chelsea and Matt Le Tissier's Southampton. That it turned out to be no contest was of little import to the Chelsea faithful as the dying minutes provided the climax they had been dreaming of since the first ball of the season was kicked.

Chelsea were already deservedly ahead from Frank Sinclair's 75th-minute goal, but still looked vulnerable on the break especially as their visitors were going for broke by keeping three attackers in the fray. Then the full-back Scott Minto pushed deep down the left before delivering a devastating cross which found Mark Hughes. The striker's header found Gullit, 10 yards out, and his volley swept past a helpless Dave Beasant for the Dutchman's first Chelsea goal.

A dream ending at the Bridge? Don't go yet as the remaining seconds made it better. Another peach of a cross from Minto and Hughes connected with one of his speciality volleys and Beasant was beaten again.

Fantasy football climaxes apart, there were definite signs that - in this part of London at least - a new dawn might not be a mirage. Gullit's prominence, both in defence and in those adrenalin-raising moments when he strides into the opponents' territory, was decisive. His rival for star billing, however, had one of those days when he "wasn't firing" as his manager, Dave Merrington, put it.

Chelsea had the lion's share of possession and John Spencer's intelligent use of space around Hughes made him the obvious target for those breathtaking 50-yard balls that Gullit delivers so accurately. One such pass and a clever Dennis Wise lob allowed the Scot to bring the best save of the half from Beasant, and it was his spade-work that led to Minto dropping a header on the Southampton crossbar.

Gullit's reminder that the original concept of the "Libero" - the free man in both defence and attack - may have inspired Frank Sinclair to appear in the visitors' penalty box 15 minutes from time. Wise saw him and picked him out with a neat lobbed pass and the defender scooped his scoring shot wide of Beasant and into the far corner of the net. That was the decisive goal, pragmatists may maintain, and the others were icing on the cake. But what delicious icing.

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