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
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
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
Referee: D Gallagher.