Vialli adds the golden touch

Chelsea 2 Leboeuf 29, Vialli 74 Coventry 0 Attendance: 25 ,024
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The Independent Online
One, but only one, touch of a master's finishing by Gianluca Vialli came as a relief to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge yesterday and an even greater one to the referee, Paul Danson, whose earlier error had allowed Chelsea's first goal to stand after a clear hand ball. He then reduced Coventry to 10 men and almost lost control of a game that had it been decided by that first goal could have become chaotic.

Danson's failure to see Dan Petrescu handle the ball shortly before Frank Leboeuf scored the opening goal ended with a four-minute row that only came about because of Danson's inability to overcome his own mistake without a fiery debate.

Almost everywhere you look in Chelsea's team this season there is the mark of Ruud Gullit's influence, the only exception being the man's presence itself. And that is sorely missed. Even so, if he has thoughts of eventually selecting himself as sweeper, the buying of Leboeuf has closed that option, while the promotion of Jody Morris has made the midfield more competitive. The arrival of Vialli and Roberto Di Matteo should, theoretically, make this the best Chelsea side since Charlie Cooke turned good defenders into fool-backs.

Morris, at five feet five, had only Dennis Wise of similar diminutive stature, but the pair of them towered over Coventry's comparative giants in terms of instigating a range of early Chelsea attacks that would have had the game resolved had Mark Hughes and Vialli taken better advantage of their aerial chances. Morris, only 17, plays with the intuition of a natural and the confidence of someone who can build a reputation in an unnaturally short space of time.

His ability to find Hughes and Vialli with long, diagonal passes, high or low, kept Coventry defending almost permanently. After 27 minutes, they succumbed to Leboeuf's header in from Erland Johnsen's cross, but that had come several seconds after Danson and the linesman had inexplicably failed to see that a goal-kick had rebounded off Petrescu's forearm.

At first, Coventry had no time to protest as Chelsea penned them in their penalty area. But once Leboeuf had scored, Steve Ogrizovic came hurtling out of his goal to confront the referee, as did Gary McAllister. Both were booked followed by Liam Daish who had been arguing with the linesman. Daish had already been cautioned and so was sent off. It was all terribly unnecessary since the situation emanated from the referee's own mistake. Not surprisingly, Coventry continued their protest as the half ended and the referee had to be escorted from the field.

Coventry calmed themselves sufficiently to ensure that their 10 men were not totally overwhelmed. Indeed, as McAllister began to have greater influence in the overcrowded midfield, so their opportunities grew, which is often the way when a side is supposedly penalised.

Chelsea's advantages became more a matter of numbers than actual superiority, especially as Vialli continued to disappoint and Morris failed to appear in the second half. Leboeuf attempted to improve their situation with several impressive, elegant excursions into the Coventry half but he, too, was ineffective in his finishing.

Finally, Vialli shed his hesitancy latching on to a long, cross-field pass from Steve Clarke. It found Vialli on the far side of the penalty area and he volleyed in a splendid face-saving shot beyond Ogrizovic.