Verheyen leaves it late to breach Blues' defences

FOOTBALL: Chelsea suffer first defeat of European campaign in Belgium
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Club Bruges 1

Chelsea 0

Chelsea suffered the first defeat of their European campaign last night, finally beaten by a header with eight minutes remaining. It spoiled a performance of determination and resolve from the English side, characterised by Kevin Hitchcock, their replacement goalkeeper, who made four splendid saves.

For long periods, the Olym-piastadion, where Glenn Hoddle received his one and only red card, looked to have offered the Chelsea manager a far sweeter return. Then a free-kick was swung in from the right and amid a fusion of bodies, Gert Verheyen applied a scoring touch for the Belgians. Still, Chelsea will feel they can progress to the Cup-Winners' Cup semi- finals in the Stamford Bridge return.

Mark Stein, who brought Chelsea their first League victory in 11 attempts at the weekend was omitted, Hoddle preferring the height of Paul Furlong as his lone attacker. Presumably that had a lot to do with the surface, a sandy pudding top between the penalty areas placing a premium on any attempt to use a patient, passing game.

The choice of Kevin Hitchcock over the Russian goalkeeper, Dimitri Kharin, who in any case was injured at Upton Park, allowed John Spencer, the little Scotsman and their third "foreigner" to forage and present himself for tackles just ahead of the midfield quartet.

Chelsea were required to defend in depth; Nigel Spackman and Eddie Newton arranged as a protectionist force in front of the back four. In the 14th minute, however, the cover came apart when Verheyen got through and appeared to be brought down by Scott Minto, but Bruges' penalty appeals were waved away.

The containing operation mostly worked well in the early stages. However, as the first half continued, Bruges began to find more spaces among the blue shirts and hinted at a breakthrough. A fluid interchange in the 37th minute gave Lorenzo Staelens a shooting chance, but Hitchcock's legs kept him out.

Making only his third appearance of the season, Hitchcock distinguished himself yet again shortly afterwards, reacting quickly when Yves Buelinckx twisted to put a header on target.

Chelsea had the first attempt on goal, a speculative bid from Spencer from 25 yards. The ball took a strange bounce and was held none too easily by Danny Verlinden. That came in the first minute, and it was mostly defensive responsibilities for the visitors thereafter.

In the 36th minute, Frank Sinclair relieved the siege when Dennis Wise's free-kick found him rising above his marker to send a header into the goalkeeper's gloves. Often there were so many Chelsea bodies back defending that attempted clearances only found a friendly shirt and the ball remained in danger. A strong wind added to the problems, but Chelsea could feel pleased with the way their night was turning out.

Bruges are a side liberally sprinkled with lofty players, but still nimble enough to work their shooting opportunities, albeit from outside Hitchcock's penalty area. When Sven Vermant did just that, Newton conceded a free- kick with potentially damaging consequences, but it caught to nought. So too did a link started by Franky Van der Elst, which Vital Borkelmans clouted high and wide.

Responding immediately with some spirit, Chelsea forced three successive corners, and Staelens had to hurriedly clear from Gavin Peacock's header.

Club Bruges (1-3-3-3): Berlinden; Okon; Medved, Renier, Borkelmans; Van der Elst (De Brul, 81), Vermant, Staelens; Verheyen, Eijkelkamp, Buelinckx.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Hitchcock; Clarke, Johnsen, Sinclair, Minto; Newton, Spackman, Peacock, Wise (Rocastle, 86); Spencer, Furlong.

Referee: S Muhmenthaler (Switzerland).

Ajax's young masters, page 38