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FA Cup Semi-Final 
 Wembley Stadium 9th April 2000 


THE churlish will say that, for all the millions spent on their imports, Chelsea remain a cup side. Ken Bates could not care less. With a place in the FA Cup Final to go along with their triumphant march in the European Cup, not even those paying small fortunes for their Stamford Bridge season tickets can claim to be short-changed.

As Lord Attenborough uncertainly ad-libbed his way through Blue Is The Colour after the final whistle yesterday, it was not the time or place to remind even their more luvvie fans that third place in the FA Carling Premiership remains their priority. There is too much to look forward to.

They are chasing a cup double, a remarkable upturn in fortunes for a team that, only a few months ago, appeared to be ageing before their supporters' eyes in surrendering away to Watford. The short-cut buying policy appeared to have taken them through the knacker's yard but we now know that men such as Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps were simply saving themselves.

Chelsea return to Wembley to play Aston Villa on May 20 and it may yet prove the warm-up for the European Cup final in Paris four days later.

Gianluca Vialli runs a disciplined camp - too strict according to some of the senior players - but the selflessness that he demands paid off yesterday. Gustavo Poyet's reaction to being left out against Barcelona on Wednesday had been a promise to be ready for Wembley.

Yesterday he more than fulfilled his vow with both Chelsea goals.

It was an enthralling semi-final that, among other things, demonstrated why Vialli's players so often appear better suited to European competition. They had far more trouble grappling with Newcastle United yesterday than they had with Barcelona in midweek, with Desailly, while magnificent, almost disgusted by the need to resort to aimless punts. It was a necessary tactic against a tireless Newcastle side who, after three previous empty defeats at Wembley, did not send their shadows. Even Vialli admitted to feeling sorry for them after a belligerent display, but all they had to celebrate was their first goal at the old stadium since Alan Gowling's strike in 1976.

While Newcastle had the passion and possession, Chelsea had the class - and the luck. That is the simple explanation for a match in which Newcastle created three times more goalscoring opportunities, five times more corners and still departed Wembley in familiarly mournful mood.

In the terms of a physical battle, which this was despite only one caution, Newcastle's bludgeon proved less effective than Chelsea's rapier thrusts. At half-time, Bobby Robson's side led 9-1 in the number of chances but that one had been enough for Poyet to score a goal of exquisite quality.

In a move of impeccable one-touch passing and movement that began on the halfway line, the ball whizzed from Wise to Poyet, Sutton to Weah. The Liberian's flicked pass was perfect, releasing Poyet, who had continued his run into the penalty area, and the Uruguayan beat Given with an impudent lob.

That was in the sixteenth minute, by which time the Chelsea defence must have already felt as if it had gone 12 rounds. The contractors who demolish Wembley will not use as many wrecking balls as Newcastle did yesterday, hitting great thumps up to Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson.

They also had the advantage along their right, where Nolberto Solano was proving that Jon Harley has much to learn before he progresses to the senior England squad. The young full back was run ragged at times.

Unfortunately for Newcastle, Solano's finishing could not match that of Poyet. Denied by Desailly's giant frame in the eighth minute just as he pulled the trigger, Solano should have done better just before half-time.

Barton's hopeful punt into the area had caused alarm, particularly when De Goey rushed to meet it only to change his mind, and Shearer knocked the ball down to the penalty spot. The ball sat up nicely for Solano but his finish was wild.

By then, Ferguson had limped to the sidelines because of fluid on his knee. His departure should have been a terrible blow to Newcastle, given that much of their play was dependent on aerial bombardment. Instead, it became an advantage. Forced to develop other options, their best spell was the 25 minutes immediately after the break. With Dyer released from the constraints of being a right-footer on the left flank, he could do what he does best, which is buzz around defenders like a wasp. With Shearer, who "fought like a tiger" according to Bobby Robson, taking great delight in battering Leboeuf, Newcastle charged forward.

As the pressure mounted, it appeared certain that Chelsea's dam would burst. Dyer might have been the one to break it down in the 52nd minute when another huge cross from Barton was knocked down by Speed. His volley was tipped over by the excellent De Goey.

When Desailly was forced to flick the ball off Dabizas's toe with a late lunge, it seemed that Chelsea would not be able to hang on any more and the goal duly came in the 66th minute. Shearer, having dragged Leboeuf out to the right flank, whipped in the best cross of the game and Robert Lee met it with a powerful header.

It would have taken a brave man at that point to put a pound on Chelsea to win. George Weah had tired dramatically, Roberto Di Matteo had failed to exert any influence and Deschamps and Wise were fully occupied in cleaning up the mess in front of their defence.

But there is something indomitable about this Chelsea team in the biggest matches and back they came in the 71st minute. Harley struck a fine cross and Poyet was there to head it past Given. It had been five remarkable days for Vialli's cosmopolitan army.

CHELSEA (4-4-2): E de Goey - A Ferrer (sub: D Petrescu, 74), F Leboeuf, M Desailly, J Harley - R Di Matteo, D Deschamps, D Wise, G Poyet - C Sutton (sub: T A Flo, 46), G Weah (sub: G Zola, 79). Substitutes not used: C Cudicini, J Hogh. Booked: Deschamps.

NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): S Given - W Barton, S Howey, N Dabizas, A Hughes (sub: T Ketsbaia, 79min) - N Solano, R Lee, G Speed, K Dyer - D Ferguson (sub: D Domi, 38), A Shearer. Substitutes not used: A Goma, D Gavilan, S Harper.

Referee: D Gallagher.

Matt Dickinson

Stolen from The Times, 10th April - we didn't have the heart to write anything down. 

Page last updated 24 June, 2009