Gullit must go it alone

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 3 Tottenham Hotspur 1

As wakes go it turned into quite a party in the end and, if all we have read and heard about Matthew Harding is to be believed, then that is exactly what he would have wanted. A full house and a handsome victory for his beloved Chelsea over their great rivals, Tottenham.

The match itself was destined to be a sideshow from the moment the decision was taken not to postpone it, but the Chelsea vice-chairman would have been pleased with his side's most convincing performance at Stamford Bridge for some time.

The question on everyone's mind now is whether the club can survive and prosper without their popular benefactor. Ken Bates, the Chelsea chairman, has already indicated that the redevelopment of the ground will be completed, so that leaves the team. Are they good enough to make do without any more expensive acquisitions and see the club through to more self-sufficient times?

Certainly they rely very heavily on Ruud Gullit, and they are a completely different proposition with the player-manager on the field. He may be past his best, but not so much that you would notice it in the Premiership where his searing pace, allied to his strength and skill, puts him on a different plane to just about anybody you can think of.

But immense though his contribution is as a player, it is Gullit the manager upon whom most depends as far as Chelsea are concerned. A year ago, when these two teams played out a sterile goalless draw on the same ground, Gullit had not only Matthew Harding's reassuring presence in the background but Glenn Hoddle's too. Now neither are there and suddenly the whole "New Chelsea" movement has been dumped on his shoulders.

Gullit has reacted to Harding's death like the superstar that he is, expressing his grief in a genuinely touching way, but whether he is willing and able to maintain the momentum of the revolution that Harding and Hoddle began remains to be seen.

Lest any cynics be in any doubt, Saturday's match was indeed an emotional occasion. "I think there was a special vibe through the whole stadium," Gullit said. "I heard that people who were not even playing felt it just watching the game, so you can im- agine how it was for the players."

Wreaths from both clubs were laid in the centre circle before the match, with a pint of Guinness for Harding standing on the centre spot; Dennis Wise and Steve Clarke, team captain and club captain respectively, carried out a floral message reading "Matthew RIP" and presented it in front of the newly-named Matthew Harding Stand; and the Chelsea players linked hands and stood, like everybody else in the ground, sombre and utterly noiseless during the minute's silence.

"Everyone in the stadium today participated in a special way," Gullit said, "including the Tottenham supporters, and on behalf of the team and the staff I want to thank them. Everybody's just happy about the way they played, and it was a perfect tribute to Matthew."

The Tottenham manager, Gerry Francis, said: "It's certainly a match I will remember. You could feel the emotion throughout the ground, quite rightly from the word go, and it's obviously a very sad day for many, many people."

Matthew Harding first became involved with the running of Chelsea little more than three years ago. Walking into Stamford Bridge on Saturday, the huge bank of flowers and scarves laid in tribute to him was a sight to behold, as was that of grown men and women weeping openly in front of them. It is hard to believe that any individual could have made such an impression at a football club in such a short space of time.

David Lee, the Chelsea centre-back, has a broken leg and is likely to miss the rest of the season.

Goals: Gullit 27 (1-0); Armstrong 40 (1-1); Lee (pen, 51 2-1) Di Matteo (81) 3-1.

Chelsea (3-5-2): Hitchcock; Duberry, Lee (Phelan, 80), Clarke (Johnsen, 59); Petrescu, Wise, Di Matteo, Gullit (Burley, 74), Minto; Hughes, Vialli. Substitutes not used: Spencer, Grodas (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Calderwood, Campbell, Edinburgh; Fox (Dozzell, 74), Howells, Nielsen (Allen, 70), Wilson; Sheringham, Armstrong. Substitutes not used: Nethercott, Hill, Bardsen (gk).

Bookings: Chelsea: Petrescu, Wise. Tottenham: Edinburgh.

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).

Man of the match: Gullit. Attendance: 28,373.