Milosevic cuts a dash

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ON THE one hand, this was an unofficial FA Cup third-place play- off; on the other, it was vitally important for Chelsea's hopes of qualifying for Europe. Either way, the Londoners will be disappointed. They spent almost an hour demonstrating how fluid, sharp and intelligent their play could be on this cool, grey day before Villa, with Tommy Johnson on stream again, knocked the stuffing out of them.

The turning point came in the 28th minute when Chelsea were leading 1- 0 and threatening to score again. John Spencer, once again a magnet for Ruud Gullit's long passes, flew over Paul McGrath's legs in the box. Dennis Wise took the penalty, Mark Bosnich spring-heeled to his right and held the ball. "You're bloody useless, Wise," bawled a Chelsea man with a purple face.

Three minutes before this, Johnson had replaced the hobbling Steve Staunton to invigorate Villa's attack and take pressure off a sluggish defence. Five minutes before the interval, Alan Wright cruised in from the left, his shot-cum-centre looped off a defender, and the ball dropped neatly on to Savo Milosevic's forehead, thus negating Spencer's seventh-minute opener for Chelsea, set up for him by Gullit and Craig Burley.

Scott Minto made a successful, if quiet, return as a Chelsea wing-back, but this well-organised defence took a pounding throughout the third quarter. Kevin Hitchcock had to make two last-second reaction saves to fall to Milosevic, the second from eight yards, and he made a third save, almost as good, from Mark Draper, after Villa had deservedly taken a lead.

Chelsea were drawn upfield and caught by Milosevic's sudden dash and side flick for Dwight Yorke to apply his usual surgical finish.

Gullit played in an advanced position for most of this match, although, according to a visiting Dutchman, "he is not fully playing, only strolling". This seemed to be a hypercritical view from Amsterdam. The great man could probably stand still on the centre spot at Stamford Bridge and do more damage than most other midfielders.

What Chelsea do have is a genuine prodigy in the 19-year-old Michael Duberry, a player of such power strength and pace that he must become the target of some enticing offers. His bursts down the right supplemented the efforts of the late arrivals Nigel Spackman and Gavin Peacock, but Bosnich was not to be beaten again.