Double's derby

Wednesday 25 September 2002

Not quite the highs of our last London derby, but a point well earned against a far superior team than Tottenham. It's a measure of how far we've come in a season that we took the field in real belief that we could win this one. Last season we were the underdogs in every match against Chelsea, last night it didn't feel that way.

It was a pulsating evening with a high tempo set from the very start. As a result, play was at times not pretty, but nonetheless passionate which considering the history was to be expected.

Both defences dominated in the main and Harry's first-half blast over the top and Gronkjaer's late attempt were the only real clear-cut chances. Ina made another excellent opening for himself, which would surely have given us the lead against most other keepers.

Every player gave there all to the cause. Bob and Barry ran for miles and Sean and Steed were up and down the park like a yo-yo. With Zola dropping in behind Hasselbaink, Chelsea have virtually a five-man midfield most of the time, so Sean's role in closing down was immense. He wasn't given the time to show his range of passing, but his work-rate once again was outstanding.

VDS had his critics last season for one or two ricks, but he has already saved us this term on several occasions. He made at least five or six excellent saves last night many times making them look run of the mill as he did at Sunderland and in Split last week. He looks better than last year and his influence over the back four is immense.

I thought Zat had a tremendous game as well. He seems to be learning fast and has the potential to dominate attackers in the way that Rio Ferdinand does. Playing in front of VDS and alongside Alain will help his game come on in leaps and bounds. With Melv in the background he will also get the occasional rest which for a young centre-half constantly under pressure is very important.

Abdes is a fine central defender and I thought had a good second half defensively, but we lacked Stevie Finnan's attacking option. With Leggy on the right as well, we found ourselves with a totally defensive right side. On so many occasions, the ball was crying out for one of Finns' runs and famous cut backs.

Wome needs time to settle, but in the second period he made a few good runs and like Finns isn't afraid to cut inside. One thing he has brought to the ballpark is something we've never had in my time as a supporter - a long throw. The trajectory of these will cause defences problems as we work out the best way to hurt the opposition with these. Pity he didn't swing in any of those curling corners he did against Spurs.

Ina got stuck in but wasn't able to influence the game as he has done in the past, but he is still learning and probably won't play in a game as fast as that for some time. He's already being closed down much quicker following the impact he's made. Having Steed and Clarky also available to play in that role can only be good for the team as a whole.

Steed was probably our best player and became even more impressive when he moved back into that role in the hole after Ina was substituted. He now looks back to the form of last season and there's no doubt the competition for places is responsible for that. Boa's introduction caused a few panics in the Chelsea defence if only he could take the blinkers off on occasions! That said he provides a real threat down the flank and seems to combine well with Wome.

So we're up to sixth again with a game in hand. Everton away on Saturday and then a run of three home games. Our visit to the blue half of Merseyside last season was one of the disappointments of the campaign. A crazy second goal and the entire second half spent in their penalty box could only yield the one goal as David Moyes took charge for the first game.

They will be a little low after conceding last against Villa but are unbeaten at home. Really can't see us losing this one. With Finns hopefully back it's a game that I think we've got to get something from. A draw would be a good result but I think we can take all the points.

The team is still growing and learning with the new players that have come in and confidence should be high after the performance against Chelsea. We've made a habit of not conceding in the first 20 or so minutes away from home and quietening down the home crowd. If we can do the same at Goodison, we'll get a result. Much will depend on how the players recover from Monday night's match but a win will move us further up the table and provide a boost before next week's UEFA Cup match.

Our four games after Saturday give us a great chance to make a real bid to stay in the European places. Man United are sandwiched between Charlton and West Ham all at Loftus Road. Then we have Southampton away. It could be argued all four of these teams are struggling. These are the matches we need to get three points from. A good return from these and we really will be in for a special campaign!

COYW

GD