Chelsea v Everton

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FA Carling Premiership 96/97 - Game 16
Saturday 7 December 1996
Stamford Bridge, London

Result: Chelsea (1) 2 - Everton (2) 2
Zola 12, Vialli 55; Branch 17, Kanchelskis 28

Chelsea: Grodas, Petrescu, Gullit, Leboeuf, Clarke, Vialli, Wise, Duberry, Minto (45 Burley), Newton, Zola.
Subs Not Used: Di Matteo, Sinclair, Nicholls, Colgan. Booked: Wise, Petrescu, Vialli.

Everton: Southall; Barrett, Unsworth, Watson (c); Kanchelskis, Parkinson, Grant, Speed, Hinchcliffe; Branch (71 Stuart), Ferguson. Booked: None.
Subs Not Used: Rideout, Gerrard, Hottiger, Short. Unavailable: Jackson (On Loan), Barmby (flu), Ebbrell (recovering).

Ref: Paul Durkin Att: 28,418 League Position: 8th Results and League Table

Previous Match: Everton v Sunderland -- Next Match: Derby County v Everton

Match Summary

SoccerNet: Money was all around at Stamford Bridge:

Indeed, it took the shaven head of Michael Branch to remind us we were in south-west London. Branch, just 18, and one of the breed of emerging English strikers amid the foreign invasion, scored his first senior goal for Everton to maintain his exciting development which has seen him represent England at all levels up to Under-21.

More crucially for those who worry about the price of success in the modern game, Branch cost not a penny -- a Liverpool lad who supported Everton as a boy. Time was when Chelsea had some of those themselves. Remember Greaves, Osgood, Tambling and Hudson?

Now the Bridge echoes to foreign names and none more exotic than Zola, the bewitching little man who once kept Roberto Baggio out of the Italian team. Zola it was who drew first blood in the 11th minute when Wise had his back heels taken away by Joe Parkinson 30 yards from goal. Zola hit his right-foot shot so sweetly that even though Neville Southall saw the ball most of the way, he could only scramble towards it as it thudded into the top right corner.

Branch equalised four minutes later when Andy Hinchcliffe's cross was headed down by Duncan Ferguson and the ball broke free under Gary Speed's challenge. Branch eagerly swept it home from close range.

Ten minutes later Everton were in front as Ferguson's 40-yard cross-ball dropped accurately into Kanchelskis's path. The flying winger slipped Scott Minto to run on into the area and slide a low shot past Chelsea's Norwegian goalkeeper Frode Grodas.

Vialli was taking up some exciting positions for Chelsea and from one impudent back-heel Steve Clarke crossed for Gullit to head just over. Gullit had another chance from even closer range and hugged the post in disbelief as this header flew wide. Craig Burley, brought on as second-half substitute for Minto who had endured a torrid time against Kanchelskis, set up Zola who twisted past two defenders before shooting tamely at Southall.

Chelsea were dominating the match and Everton needed all their spirit and stern tackling to hold them off. When the Chelsea equaliser came, after 55 minutes, it carried the touch of master cracksmith. Gullit sent Zola free down the left in a darting run and the diminutive midfield player chipped for Vialli to crash the ball home.

Vialli might have sealed it for Chelsea minutes later but his goal-bound shot was blocked on the line by David Unsworth when Zola's left foot chip forced Southall into a diving save. Zola's inswinging corner bounced clear from the bar before Vialli missed when clear from 12 yards. It was all Chelsea and Vialli headed onto the bar from Zola's cross as Southall was stranded at the edge of his penalty area.

It was Vialli's last action, limping off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. Everton might have secured a shock winner in the final moments when Wise, in clearing his lines, crashed the ball against the back of Frank Leboeuf to force an acrobatic save from Grodas.

Backs against the Wall

Guy McEvoy: I'd been warned that my visit to Footballs biggest building site was likely to be a disappointing experience. At 20 quid a ticket, we were earmarked for the cheap-seats and so expectations were low.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find myself right near the front on the half way line sitting next to the dugout. This gave me the chance to have a quick (alcohol induced) chat with Graham Stuart ("How come you're dropped then?", "kick up the arse I guess"), and the once in a lifetime chance to yell "sit down fat-head, I can't see!" to Joe Royle.

Which you'll be pleased to know I didn't. Anyway, with a turn round and look up giving a fine view of the Chelsea pensioners, and Peter Johnson chatting away with Ken Bates, I'm not going to moan about the 20 quid after all.

First Half

A nice quick start as the teams tried to settle, Everton missing the flu-stricken Barmby, Chelsea without Hughes (though more than compensated with Gullit as the replacement) and their Foreign Legion trying to use flair to out-wit the day's more physical Everton battle plan.

It was Chelsea who drew first blood; Barrett was dispossessed by wise who made a diagonal run into the path of Parkinson. His dive was good enough to kid the easily fooled Mr Durkin and the free kick was awarded from a central position 25 yards out.

Zola's free kick was a delicately lobbed effort that seemed to take for ever to drift over the wall and float down. Watching both Nev and Barrett both back up reeling was played out in slow motion as the ball's destination became clear. Bugger.

The early goal stirred Everton into an extremely good spell when Chelsea couldn't quite get our measure. Grant came close first but was let down by the weakness of his shot after having done the hard bit.

The equaliser was the first taste -- eagerly awaited, and well deserved -- of glory for Michael Branch. It was no classic, Ferguson and Speed had combined and Speeds effort needed the tap in from Branch to force it home.

Still, nobody cared how pretty the goal was -- the lad has played with enough blue heart for the whole team since his first introduction and as time began to pass more and more similarities with Stuart Barlow were being noted. Let's hope with his bogie buried he can go on to fulfill all this early promise.

Things got better still 10 minutes later when Duncan swept the ball upfield to Kanchelskis, the midfielder's first touch was good enough to line him up unmarked, and he remained equally cool with the finish, side-footing the ball under the keeper. For the record the whole team seemed to join Andrei for the celebrations for this goal.

The rest of the half was pretty even stuff, we could have killed it off on at least two occasions, but this was cancelled out by Gullit missing a header from about three yards and Vialli being just an inch away from landing an overhead kick. Good vibes at half time.

Second Half

The second half though was a different kettle of fish, particularly the last half an hour. Chelsea shifted up a gear and for Everton the game became a matter of containment.

The midfield battle was lost and a "backs against the wall" defence was begun in the face of a Chelsea barrage.

Chelsea equalised through a marvellous goal, again it came from Barrett being dispossessed (what was he thinking?), Zola made the run and linked up with Gullit the cross was centred and the Everton defence had been drawn away to give Vialli a free, but by no means easy header. It was a case of clinging on by our fingertips from here in on.

Thankfully, a combination of Southall's agility, magnetic wood-work, good last ditch defending form the two Daves and most of all the linesmen's extremely defender-friendly interpretation of the off-side rule meant that Chelsea weren't able to capitalise on their dominance.

Despite this Chelsea dominance, Everton nearly snatched an extremely welcome though thoroughly unjust winner when the Chelsea keeper had to palm a rocket deflected ball off one of his own defenders, it would have been some own-goal. It was so nearly an additional two points.

"What goes around, comes around," and I prefer to see it come around rather than going around. How many times early this season did we dominate a game for large chunks only to see the opposition walk off with a point or three? It was very satisfactory to be sat on the other side of the fence for once. Make no bones about it, we must be the happier of the two teams with that point.

Individual Performances

High Rollers

The Suggs-meister: Chelsea away. The words conjure up images of overpriced food (£2.50 for a hot dog), replica kit-clad kids while their dads wear the old 70s shirts that Ossie and the lads wore, mobile phones proliferate and it's 20 quid a ticket. Outside you can buy Ruud Gullit wigs for 10 quid. Yes. TEN of your English pounds.

Chelsea. A club that has ideas above its station. They are building a super-stadium with the late Matthew Harding's money. The Shed is no more and the North and East Stands are great constructions -- if you're not in the back few rows of the bottom tier of the East stand, in which case you can see nothing but concrete when everybody stands up. Great. I got lucky -- Row S is high enough to give you a decent spec while it's not so high that you can't see anything.

Barmby was out and in his place came Branch. Stuart was relegated to the bench. Hughes was out for Chelsea and Gullit played up front. Di Matteo made way for the mighty Eddie Newton. Bit like us dropping Kanchelskis for Rideout.

The match was end-to-end and very open so I may have got a few details wrong and left the odd thing out but it was very fast.

Everton had already been denied a possible penalty -- Clarke challenged Kanchelskis and Ferguson had headed over -- when Chelsea scored out of nothing. Everyone's favourite Barrett was caught in possession and Wise fell over -- in other words DIVED -- when he ran across Parkinson. Zola curled the free-kick in from thirty yards even though Barrett was trying to cover the post. All he did was get in Southall's way as he couldn't get a clean dive at the ball.

We had to hit back quickly and we did. I had just been thinking Branch hadn't been doing much when he won the ball and set up an attack. Hinchcliffe swung it in from the left, Ferguson beat Duberry to nod down and Speed and Branch were both unmarked. Speed poked it forward and Branch did well to stretch and flick it over Grodas. 17 minutes. 1-1.

Chelsea came more into the game and Zola had a free-kick deflected over the bar after Vialli body-checked Barrett and fell over. Gullit headed over an open goal from four yards. Didn't matter though because we scored two minutes later. Ferguson swung the ball across to Kanchelskis, Minto came for it and missed it and Kanchelskis had a clean run in on goal. From where I was I could see a gap on the near post. So could our Andrei. 2-1.

Two minutes later Grant was clean through but his shot was straight at Grodas. At the other end Vialli had a scissor-kick well wide while Watson drilled an effort across the face of their goal. Their defence was looking weak, especially Leboeuf, who is great with the ball at his feet but poor when defending.

Half-time it was 2-1 but it could have been 4-3 to us. We were told by the man with the mike that Scousers never see fit women -- this despite the fact that they were two slappers. Him and Osgood got drowned out by chants of "EV-ER-TON" for the next two minutes.

They brought Burley on for Minto at the start of the second-half. As usual we tailed off after the break -- if the table was based on first-half performances we would be five points clear at the top by now.

The chances kept coming in the second-half, most of them to Chelsea. But we were looking comfortable when Barrett lost possession again. Zola was played in by Gullit, he beat Parkinson's diving lunge and crossed for an unmarked Vialli. 2-2.

The rest of the game saw even more chances, with Southall having a blinder. He saved spectacularly from Zola and another effort from Zola was straight at him. Vialli blazed over and hit the bar with a header with Southall grounded and out of his goal after tackling Newton. A Zola corner hit the bar and Unsworth blocked two shots on the line in two seconds.

At the other end, Branch was denied by a Leboeuf tackle (which left him injured but Chelsea didn't kick it out. Southall did and they kept the ball from the throw-in. Interestingly Southall had a go at Gullit after this incident. Later on Vialli was limping off and Southall kicked it out of play) and a Kanchelskis through-ball failed to find Stuart in the clear. A Wise clearance from the six-yard box hit Leboeuf and Grodas did well to tip over.

A draw was a fair result and we were happy with it after the way they had had us under the cosh for most of the second-half. Another point gained on the RS anyway!


REF: Mr Paul Durkin, Portland, Dorset 7 -- surprisingly OK. Free-kick decisions were dodgy and he annoyed Duncan for blowing up for nothing a few times but he's been worse. Much worse.

Who needs Andy Cole?

Tony Lloyd: My first match since Wimbledon and a much better afternoon out. Others will no doubt post detailed reports so I'll confine myself to a few thoughts:-

  1. Branch and Duncan - that's going to be some partnership. Branch got his first goal when Duncan leapt knocking the ball down for a tap in by Micheal. Big man, little nippy bugger. Who needs Andy Cole now?
  2. Branch almost scored a second in the second half, racing forward with only the goalkeeper to beat he was brought down. No sending off, no booking, not even a free kick. The ref obviously thought he had dived. Branch then spent the next five minutes on the ground before being stretchered off to receive treatment. The ref now knew he had made a mistake. Five minutes later KanKan ran into trouble and pulled off a quite spectacular oscar winning dive -- the ref made amends and gave the free kick.
  3. That defence and defensive midfield needs work. OK, we survived but mostly 'cos Vialli was crap -- missing chance after chance. Going forward we're great but in the second half we just couldn't close them down.
  4. Barrett needs shooting. BOTH Chelsea goals came from Barrett errors. Although "error" is hardly the word - "mind bogglingly stupid act" is better. The first was just a few yards outside our area. Barrett had the ball and support but was being pressurised. Did he pass? Did he welly it up field? Did he knock it into touch? No he fannied around trying to dribble it, tripping over his own feet, losing the ball and leading directly to us conceding a free kick. Zola, who is as short as Duncan is tall and as good as Viali is bad twisted it in. What annoyed everyone is that there was no point in what Barrett tried to do - even if he had succeeded it wouldn't have got us anywhere. In the second half he did it again! Earl - YOU ARE NOT JOHAN CRUYF!! I was on the fence as far as the Barrett debate went -- not any more!
  5. In contrast to people's experiences at Leceister the Chelsea fans were very friendly. Two off them even came up to us before the match to welcome us to Stamford Bridge! Chatting to them it appears that they are trying extra hard to try and counteract the clubs reputation.

Undercover Agent Finally Sees Blues

Trond Botnen: Travelling BA via London on my way home from Victoria Falls (to Oslo), I found out that Everton was playing against Chelsea that week-end, and I promptly went to the travel agents and changed my ticket so that I could stay from Friday to Sunday in London and see the match.

It would be my first Everton match ever, but I didn't know how to get tickets. I e-mailed a friend of mine in London about this before I left for Africa, but upon arrival in London found that she had not been able to get tickets. Crushed, I went to see some other friends at the local pub, and found to my great surprise that they had arranged a ticket for me. At least I would have a chance to cheer my fav team to a crushing away victory at Stamford Bridge. NOT. The ticket was in the Chelsea stand, and I was going with a Chelsea fan. If I liked my body parts arranged the way they were, cheering Everton might not be such a clever idea after all. So, off with Everton scarf and shirt, into neutral clothes, and ready to play the undercover agent for the yellow-with-black-stripes.

Enough for intros. On to the match. We were seated behind Chelsea's goal in the first half, at ground level close to the left corner flag. I rose when the others rose, sat down when they sat down, and generally kept my mouth shut. Even so, it was a great debut match for me, as both sides played well and we got to see 4 great goals and a lot of chances. Others have posted match reports before, so I'll just give some observations.

  1. We were damn lucky to get one point. Chelsea could easily have scored 3 more in the 2nd half.
  2. Earl Barrett had a real stinker. The two times he lost possession cost us two goals and two points (yes, we were damn lucky to get one point, but if we had been two up at half time the match would have been different). Why can't he just kick it 50 yards down the field when he gets into trouble? I have seen two Everton matches on TV this year (Coventry and Forest) and Barrett was excellent in both of them. So I hope this was a one-off match, because we don't really have any good replacement for him at the moment.
  3. The linesman at our side of the pitch was the target of most of the abuse from the Chelsea supporters. I can understand them, though I wasn't exactly positioned to pass final judgement on whether he was right or not at all times.
  4. Big Dunc was a constant havoc-creator in the Chelsea area, even with a low work rate. His setting up of KK's goal shows that he also has a delicate touch with his feet, which many tend to forget because of his aerial prowess.
  5. Nobody can save as arrogantly as our Nev. On two occasions he just picked down close range shots and put the ball in his armpit as if saying, "did you ever believe you would get a shot past me?" Wonderful!
  6. I had the great pleasure of being the last person to be served in the bar (20 min. before start), with a lot of Chelsea fans yelling abuse at the barman for refusing to serve them after that. ROTFL...
  7. I was surprised at the low level of support (and verbal abuse) coming from the Chelsea fans around me. The home crowd of 2-3,000 supporters of my club in Oslo (Valerenga) do better on both accounts.
  8. Our away kit is not only ugly; the black stripes also make it very difficult to see the squad numbers.

Well, that's all. Now I've got myself tickets for the Everton-Wimbledon match on Dec 28th (Gwladys St, yessss!), which will be my first (and maybe last if we move) visit to GP. It will be even better to be able to scream when I feel like it, and to have my team play in Blue. Hope I'll meet some Toffeenetters there.

Silky Chelsea make their point in style

Chris Lightbown, Sunday Times: CHELSEA left the pitch to a standing ovation because of an astounding second-half performance. To say they were good, excellent or even superb in the second half, does not quite do them justice. They had not played particularly well for 45 minutes, were 2-1 down and not coping that well with Everton's gutsy peformance.

Whereupon, Chelsea came out and produced what will probably go down as one of the best halves of the season.

That Gianluca Vialli did not get a hat-trick after half time, is one of life's mysteries and that Ruud Gullit did not score during that time, was equally remarkable. Even when he slipped down a gear because the pace had somehow found overdrive, Gullit made passes and runs that kept him in touch with the flow as it reached hyper level. What a mind, what a player.

Neville Southall kept Everton hanging on and as Gullit said afterwards, it was one of those days when the ball just did not want to go in, no matter what. David Unsworth and Dave Watson in the last ditch and Everton's continuing resilience prevented an absolute pounding. But it was a near thing.

It had not looked like this in the first half. Everton opened up at a ferocious pace, with Gary Speed and Joe Parkinson slashing in towards Frank Lebeouf before the Frenchman could find his poise, let alone regain it. Gullit, alongside Vialli up front, could do little more than watch in some dismay. Even Dennis Wise seemed somewhat out of sorts with this stunning, driving, all-tackling Everton blast coming in from all angles.

In fact Chelsea soon gave back almost as good as they were getting. Leboeuf kept clearing fast and far upfield. But he knew what he was doing. With Everton thrust so far forward, quick clearances could unhinge their back door. But it would not happen. Gullit got over one excellent cross from what was almost a springboard on Everton's left, but little more.

Nonetheless, Chelsea went ahead. Mr Durkin said Parkinson had thumped Vialli in the back, Zola took the free-kick from about 25 yards out and although the Everton wall must have given him minimal sight of goal, there was no doubting that he intended to sweep the ball over and into Southall's goal in the manner that he did. Wondrous.

A brisk combination of Andy Hinchcliffe, Duncan Ferguson, Speed and Michael Branch led to the equaliser and where Branch did not flourish, Tony Grant did. Leboeuf hashed a clearance and Grant sprung on to the ball. Frode Grodas stopped the end product but minutes before, he was unable to stop Andrei Kanchelskis slotting a shot into the only space he could conceivably score in. That came from a Ferguson pass from deep midfield. He can do other than just head.

But to the second half. Vialli's gloriously headed equaliser came from a move slashing down Chelsea's left flank as quickly as anything Everton managed in the first and, having built up to that pace, Chelsea stepped on the gas and got even faster. Zola grazed the crossbar with a corner. Vialli did all but score. Gullit repeatedly burst into the empty space in front of Southall, only to be pulled back by a flag-happy linesman.

In one incredible moment Southall came out to try and clear his lines and with extraordinary presence of mind, Gullit lifted the ball over him and towards Vialli who was moving in on his unguarded goal. Whereupon the crossbar got yet another pasting. Great stuff.

Report Copyright The Sunday Times

Ferguson brings old-fashioned values to the fore

Simon Barnes, The Times:A two year-old boy of my acquaintance, when asked something like: "What are you doing in that bathroom?", usually answers: "I'm creating mayhem." If you asked Duncan Ferguson what he was doing in that penalty area, he would give the same reply.

Everton came to Chelsea, the current capital of nouvelle vague football and home of everything exotic in the FA Carling Premiership, and set about them with the one great throwback of a centre-forward left in the top-class game.

It made for a splendid afternoon of mayhem and grace, both sides providing both qualities, but mixed in different proportions. Chelsea's back line includes the lavishly praised Leboeuf and the richly promising Duberry, but Ferguson made mayhem among them all afternoon.

How hateful it must be to play against him. His size is bad enough; it hardly seems fair that he can leap like a stag as well. Also, he can play football, an altogether unfair advantage in a throwback. Worst of all is his unbridled delight in the fray, that terrible and intimate love of physical contact.

Chelsea set the Premiership pace at the start of the season -­ "early doors," as their manager, Ruud Gullit said, with linguistic versatility -­ but subsequently showed that there is a flaw in their challenge. However, that is true of every other side in the top half. It makes for an intriguing, if sub-excellent, championship thus far.

Last weekend, Leeds United met Chelsea's speed of foot and thought with the ancient philosophy of "let's see how fast you can limp." Chelsea were kicked out of it and you wondered if Everton would try the same tactic.

Or perhaps they would start some serious kicking once they fell behind early on. The goal came through a voluptuous free kick by Zola, the most elegant and obvious contrast to Ferguson. Zola and La Bête Humaine, if you like.

Football is essentially a contradiction, a game played without the precision tools of all man-like beasts, the hands. Yet precision and beauty are essential aspects of the game -­ hence Zola's curvy, swirly, dippy 25-yarder.

Time, then, for a little mayhem. Ferguson is not head and shoulders above his opponents: when he leaps, he is head shoulders and chest above them. The subtlest defending tactics in the world are no good if nine out of ten high balls gets knocked down by an exuberant young giant.

Ferguson's knockdown made the first goal for Everton, shoved home by Branch, an 18-year-old whose wild caperings of celebration made it clear that this was his first senior goal. Everton then took the lead, thanks to a precisely struck 40-yard cross-field ball from, well, Ferguson, as it happened.

One of the many alarming things that can happen on a football field is disorientation. As the ball moves about, you can lose your sense of direction and the precise understanding of where everybody else is. That is why you constantly see defenders reaching out to grope the man they are marking. You need to know where he is, and where the ball is at the same time.

Ferguson's pass soared sweetly over Clarke's head, straight into the stride of the man he thought he was marking. Kanchelskis is never backward in coming forward when there is a chance to run and shoot, and he did so to perfection.

Everton might have had more, such was the work of the mayhem man, but they were still mightily satisfied with their first half. Cue, then, a rather different second half. Chelsea put on one of the great pyrotechnic displays of the season thus far.

Zola did most of it, a joy to watch. Vialli scored once and might have had dozens. Zola hit the crossbar, Petrescu and Gullit did some mesmeric stuff along the right. One goal was poor reward for it all, but it was, at least, an awfully pleasant goal. Zola ­ Gullit ­ Zola ­ Vialli, a five-second dismembering of the Everton defence, one that seemed designed to prove, in that small fragment of time, that Premiership exoticisms are a legitimate part of modern football and can give throwbacks a decent game any day.

It was a splendid afternoon of football. I wonder how much more splendid it would have been without a pair of linesmen who seemed quite slavishly in league with the defenders. Every assistant referee is still a happy little flag-wagger at heart, so fearful of the flak he will receive for a mistake that causes a goal that he makes error after error the other way and stifles the life out of the game.

The problem is, of course, that the job is physically impossible. Your eyes simply cannot focus on the ball as it is played forward and on the front line at the same time and always, fearing catastophe, or just from sheer love of involvement in the game, linesmen give the benefit of any doubt to the defending side.

Referees are largely on top of one dubious tactic, that of kicking the opposition off the park ­- the Leeds v Chelsea game was something of a throwback in itself ­- but when it comes to offside, a second dubious and game-killing tactic, we find officials actually in league with the forces of darkness.

Nevertheless, it was a rich afternoon that no jelly-bellied flag-flapper could spoil. It came from two sides not quite good enough. Yet. This season is still there for the taking.

Report Copyright The Times

Space to go about their business

Despite its unremitting pace, what the Premiership offers Gullit and other foreign imports is space to go about their business. Some of the time anyway.

Ken Jones, The Independent: Just like old times at Stamford Bridge. Snuffed out by George Graham's earnest toilers at Leeds last week, at home they were a different proposition. Could the difference be Ruud Gullit? Starting only because Mark Hughes is wounded, Chelsea's player-manager rang rings round the notion that time waits for no footballer; for the Dutchman it slows respectfully to a crawl.

The mere fact that Gullit was out there made Royle envious; an old centre forward remembering the thrill of it all. 'Still their best player,' the Everton manager said after this 2-2 draw, 'I wish he'd been on the bench'.

It is where Gullit can mostly be found these days, so how long can he go on performing? 'After a couple of runs in the second half my tongue was down by my boots,' he said, 'and it was difficult to find a rhythm'. Not that Everton would have noticed. When is this old guy going to stop coming at us, you could imagine them thinking.

Despite its unremitting pace, what the Premiership offers Gullit and other foreign imports is the space to go about their business. Some of the time anyway. Certainly the setbacks Chelsea and Everton suffered last week did not intrude on an encouragingly positive attitude. 'We are wannabe teams,' Royle added. 'We are better than our positions suggest but we aren't quite getting there.'

Practically everywhere in the Premiership now there is a problem with pronunciation. A bigger problem, some say, is that the presence of big names from abroad will be to the ultimate detriment of British football. 'I don't understand the criticism,' Gullit said, 'The guys who have come here give the game a lift. They don't have to prove anything.'

Gianfranco Zola is a good example. Everton were entitled to be annoyed when Chelsea were awarded a 12th-minute free kick - and with Michael Duberry's bullying presence in the wall - but the Italian's execution was perfect, his strike too much even for a goalkeeper of Neville Southall's ageless authority.

It set up one of those games that leave the punters tingling. Everton, in broad black and yellow stripes that made them stand out like inflatable dinghies (handy this on a murky day), got right back into it. Operating at impressive pace, they drew level when Gary Speed's challenge freed the ball for Michael Branch to score his first senior goal. Pleasingly, his excitement did not run to one of those childish demonstrations that have become irritatingly fashionable.

When we spoke before the game, Royle appeared to be in good humour, and doubtless a smile crossed his face when Andrei Kanchelskis put Everton ahead in the 28th minute. A risk of playing three at the back is that it sometimes leaves the defence without cover which was precisely the case when Kanchelskis skated past Steve Clark to tuck the ball low past Frode Grodas. Mind you, Chelsea caused Royle plenty of anxiety. Gianluca Vialli only fractionally miscued with attempted volleys and Gullit was clearly upset with himself for sending a header wide.

When things later began to develop in Chelsea's favour it became clear that unless Everton did something about Zola they would have nothing to show for their efforts. Give a player of Zola's class time and room on the ball, and a fair bet is that he will do serious damage. Combing neatly with Gullit, the Italian committed the old war horse Dave Watson (another who appears to go on forever) to his one error of the match, and Vialli headed Chelsea level.

Soon after, Royle sent out fresh instructions, ordering Earl Barrett to close down Zola who immediately found life more difficult. Nevertheless, Everton remained under siege. Zola bounced a corner off the crossbar, Vialli went close, so did Petrescu.

Gullit came off at the end smiling wistfully. A pulled muscle will sideline Vialli for two weeks, and Chelsea had again not taken advantage of the openings they created. A good question is: will Gullit be around to see the completion of contracts that will keep Dennis Wise and Steve Clark at Chelsea until the next millennium? Unfortunately, not as a player.

Italian chic foils Mersey graft

Steve Curry, Electronic Telegraph: THEY HAVE always been partial to Italian chic down London's King's Road and there was plenty on show at Chelsea yesterday where Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranco Zola combined to thwart Everton. Yet Everton's boys from Merseyside, used to less style, put on their working clothes to prevent a 28,418 Stamford Bridge crowd enjoying a full celebration.

Ruud Gullit has already made it clear that favouritism is not a word figuring in his sporting vocabulary; that he is at Chelsea to win matches rather than friends. Those who do not like his style can go but few will because most sense they are on to a good thing. Hence the news that Dennis Wise, who has tried to ruffle the Dutchman's dreadlocks, has just committed himself to Chelsea until the millennium.

Steve Clarke and Dan Petrescu have also joined him on the gravy train and, despite the salutory lesson at Leeds last weekend, optimism is still the dominant emotion along the Kings Road. Even if it seemed misplaced halfway through this game.

Mark Hughes, who might have been hobbling round on crutches this week after the Brian Deane tackle that buckled his ankle, was still crocked, giving Gullit the opportunity to start only his second League match of the season playing alongside Vialli. Everton also had to make changes. They had the cannon in Duncan Ferguson but not the loader Nick Barmby, still debilitated by a midweek bout of flu and Joe Royle swapped round his formation to accommodate teenager Michael Branch.

It was hardly a shock when Everton opted to use the high ball into the Chelsea area and Ferguson showed his immense spring to reach Tony Grant's centre early on but was unable to direct his header under the bar. Zola had no such problem in the 11th minute when Joe Parkinson clipped Wise's heels 25 yards from goal. The £4.5 million Italian struck a wonderfully accurate, swerving, dipping free-kick which Neville Southall was never going to reach.

The lead was to last only five minutes, however, with Ferguson again heavily involved in the equaliser. He climbed almost lazily to meet Andy Hinchcliffe's centre and when Gary Speed won the contest for the downward header, young Branch was delighted to finish off the move.

Gullit then headed over the bar from inside the six yard area, a costly aberration for which Chelsea were quickly punished. This time Ferguson's involvement was a 40-yard pass that dipped over Michael Duberry and eluded the slipping Scott Minto, enabling Andre Kanchelskis the chance to roll the ball inside the right post.

When Chelsea equalised in the 54th minute it was a goal straight from Italy's Serie A import. Gullit played the ball down the line, Zola controlled it and crossed for Vialli to climb powerfully and head past Southall.

As Chelsea pressed Vialli had a shot cleared off the line by David Unsworth and a corner hit the top of Southall's bar; then Vialli headed against the bar as the Everton keeper lay injured on the edge of his area. But Chelsea almost tossed away the game in the 83rd minute when Wise smacked a clearance against Frank Leboeuf and the rebound just missed an open goal.

Report Copyright The Electronic Telegraph

The Last Word

Joe Royle (courtesy The PA News): Everton manager Joe Royle believed his side should have pushed home the advantage they won in the first half with goals from Michael Branch and Andrei Kanchelskis.

"I've heard people call us spiky -- maybe we weren't spiky enough today.

"Both these clubs are wannabee's, both feel we are better than our position and should be up there. We've now got the rest of the season to prove that right." Royle questioned the award of the free kick from which Zola scored and the positioning of goalkeeper Neville Southall and full-back Earl Barrett.

He also felt Kanchelskis should have had a penalty but he added: "I wouldn't take issue with anything. It was a great game, the referee handled it very well and the punters had their money's worth today."

He hailed the display of Gullit, in for the injured Mark Hughes, adding: "He was terrific -- I wish he'd stay in the dug-out.

"He was probably their best player -- he looks great whether he plays up front, midfield or where ever." But he was most pleased with youngster Branch, who scored his first goal for the club.

"The kid has been electric but he has needed that first goal."

Results and League Table

Monday, 9 December 1996

NOTTINGHAM FOREST       0-0     NEWCASTLE UNITED          25,762

Sunday, 8 December 1996

WEST HAM UNITED         2-2     MANCHESTER UNITED         25,045 
Raducioiu(78) Dicks(pen:80)     Solskjaer(54) Beckham(75)

Saturday, 7 December 1996

ARSENAL                 2-2     DERBY COUNTY              38,018  
Adams(45) Vieira(90)            Sturridge(62) Powell(71)
CHELSEA                 2-2     EVERTON                   28,418  
Zola(12) Vialli(55)             Branch(17) Kanchelskis(28)
COVENTRY CITY           1-2     TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR         19,675  
Whelan(60)                      Sheringham(27) Sinton(75)
LEICESTER CITY          1-1     BLACKBURN ROVERS          19,306  
Marshall(78)                    Sutton(33)
LIVERPOOL               0-1     SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY       39,507  
MIDDLESBROUGH           0-0     LEEDS UNITED              30,018  

SOUTHAMPTON             0-1     ASTON VILLA               15,232  
SUNDERLAND              1-3     WIMBLEDON                 19,672  
Melville(83)                    Ekoku(8,29) Holdsworth(89)

Wednesday, 4 December 1996

ARSENAL                 3-1     SOUTHAMPTON               38,033
Merson(43) Wright(pen:57)       Berkovic (81)
WEST HAM UNITED         0-2     ASTON VILLA               19,105 
                                Ehiogu(38) Yorke(74)

Tuesday, 3 December 1996

MIDDLESBROUGH           0-2     LEICESTER CITY            29,709 
                                Claridge(45) Izzet(46)

Table after 9 December 1996

Club                   P      W    D    L     GF    GA   GD  Pts
Arsenal               17     10    5    2     34    16   18   35
Wimbledon             16      9    4    3     29    17   12   31
Liverpool             16      9    4    3     26    14   12   31
Newcastle United      16      9    3    4     26    17    9   30
Aston Villa           17      9    3    5     22    15    7   30
Manchester United     16      7    6    3     31    24    7   27
Chelsea               16      6    7    3     25    23    2   25
Everton               16      6    6    4     25    20    5   24
Sheffield Wednesday   16      6    6    4     17    18   -1   24
Tottenham Hotspur     16      7    2    7     17    17    0   23
Derby County          16      5    7    4     19    19    0   22
Leicester City        17      6    3    8     17    22   -5   21
Leeds United          16      6    2    8     15    20   -5   20
West Ham United       17      4    6    7     15    22   -7   18
Sunderland            16      4    5    7     14    21   -7   17
Middlesbrough         17      3    6    8     20    28   -8   15
Blackburn Rovers      16      2    7    7     16    21   -5   13
Southampton           17      3    4   10     24    32   -6   13
Nottingham Forest     16      1    7    8     12    25  -13   10
Coventry City         16      1    7    8     10    23  -13   10

This League Table Update provided by Lawrence "Leagueman" Breakey

This Match Report Compilation was prepared by Michael Kenrick for Marko Poutiainen. 12 Dec 1996.