Gullit's fitting tribute

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 3

Gullit 27, Lee 52 (pen), Di Matteo 80

Tottenham Hotspur 1

Armstrong 41

Attendance: 28,373

A game touched by tragedy was concluded in the only fitting way at Stamford Bridge yesterday when Chelsea, skilfully and emotionally inspired by Ruud Gullit, achieved their first home win since 24 August. Nevertheless, the death of their popular vice-chairman and financial supporter, Matthew Harding, dictated such a sombre theme that no mere sporting victory could really have meaning.

Gullit himself said: "It had nothing to do with getting three points. It was a perfect tribute to Matthew. There was a special feeling and everyone responded in their own way." He made a special tribute to the Tottenham supporters who, he said, "paid respect to a man who realised he was lucky to have achieved so much, but still remained one of the boys - someone who was always a fan."

The response of the club was to play the match, and it was manifestly the right decision. Every Chelsea fan knew that for the man who had given the club a financial key to long-awaited achievement, a Saturday afternoon without football was one without fun and laughter, fantasy and torment. The fans had quietly paid their respects at the main gate, where they built an ever-widening wall of flowers. Bob Dylan's songs were the preamble, which would have been Harding's choice, and there was a flawlessly respected minute's silence as the Spurs players stood by more flowers in the centre circle and Chelsea's stood hand in hand in front of the newly-dedicated Harding stand.

Whatever the long term future of the club, for the moment all Chelsea wanted was to get to grips with recent wayward form, but playing beneath that new north stand that Harding's money had founded made it difficult to concentrate on the comparatively mundane business at hand.

For Spurs the task was almost as demanding. A Chelsea win was almost a prerequisite, but their own need was as great. No one caused them more early difficulty than Gullit, who had elected to appear in his first full match as player-manager. Playing just behind Mark Hughes and Gianluca Vialli, he inflicted instant damage on Tottenham's confidence by the accuracy and weight of his passing.

What concerned Gullit was the absence of Frank Leboeuf at the centre of defence, though not enough to play there himself. So the answer was to be positive all of the time. No-one was more positive than Gullit himself.

Having begun a 26th-minute attack that was slow to make progress, Gullit pressed forward. When Roberto Di Matteo centred and Hughes rose powerfully to head on to the foot of the post, Gullit had reached the penalty area and placed the rebound past Ian Walker.

Recent performances by Chelsea's goalkeeper, Kevin Hitchcock, have suggested ailing confidence and that was confirmed five minutes from half time when, admittedly with Gullit obscuring his view, he made no contact with a long throw from Allan Nielsen which left Chris Armstrong to loop in a header.

A slightly generous penalty, awarded when Dan Petrescu was intercepted and brought down with no painful intent by Sol Campbell, allowed David Lee to drive in the spot-kick off Walker's fingers, and Hughes should have removed all doubt when, after Scott Minto had clouted the bar, he wasted the inviting rebound.

On this melancholy afternoon the sight of Lee being carried off following a spirited tackle by Campbell added more sadness. Lee had cracked his tibula, an injury which could rule him out for the rest of the season. Chelsea compensated when, after 80 minutes, Vialli made a powerful run towards the penalty area. His cross was well met by Di Matteo who sped the ball beyond Walker. With deference to Spurs, it was the result the occasion demanded.

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