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Un-Wise Dismissal Sours Comfortable Win Over Villa

It was late October 1998. Chelsea were in the Cup Winners’ Cup as holders, sixth in the League and had drawn Aston Villa at home in the League Cup third round. Villa, to the surprise of many, were top of the League and unbeaten all season. When they visited Stamford Bridge for that cup-tie on 28th October their manager John Gregory made six team changes, resting players, ironically for a League game at Stamford Bridge the following Saturday. He was quite open, telling the Daily Mail ‘to be honest, the Worthington Cup is only fourth on my list of priorities (they had a UEFA Cup tie against Celta Vigo the following week). Villa were missing, amongst others, Paul Merson, Stan Collymore, Gareth Southgate and Gareth Barry.

Chelsea boss Gianluca Vialli actually made more changes, eight, from the side that had drawn at Elland Road the previous weekend, including an enforced one with England defender Graeme Le Saux suspended. His side had not lost since the first game of the season, at Coventry, and lined up :- Kharine; Petrescu, Duberry, Lambourde, Babayaro; Morris, Wise, Poyet; Nicholls, Flo, Vialli.

A great chance for youngsters Jody Morris and Mark Nicholls, neither of whom had started a game that season, to impress and stake their claim for more first team appearances. Centre-back Michael Duberry stressed the hosts wanted to win because they wanted silverware but also to create a psychological advantage over Villa before the weekend.

26,790 supporters turned up, well under the 34,800 capacity but not too bad given the weakened sides and the fact the game was shown live on Sky Sports 2.

Gustavo Poyet hit the bar early on but Mark Draper gave the visitors a ninth-minute lead with a free-kick that deflected off Poyet to leave Dmitri Kharine helpless. Chelsea dominated but did not equalise for over twenty minutes, keeper Michael Oakes making a series of saves, until defender Bernard Lambourde took it on himself to storm towards the Villa goal, before laying the ball off to Vialli who side footed the ball home for his first goal in five months.

Gianluca Vialli equalises

Chelsea continued to control the game, with Oakes again performing heroically to keep them out. Halfway through the second half, however, Vialli scored his second, turning Simon Grayson and ‘exquisitely’ hammering home a Poyet pass.

And nets his second

Tore Andre Flo headed a third after 71 minutes from Wise’s free-kick and Vialli completed his hat-trick, sliding home a Poyet pass with five minutes to go. For the last five minutes, and with the game won, Vialli had brought on, almost unnoticed, a young substitute for Dan Petrescu. Centre-back John Terry, not eighteen for six weeks, made his first-team debut, a player who, to put it mildly, was to have a massive impact on the club over the next nineteen years. Following his late substitution, Petrescu kicked out at the dugout, refused a tracksuit top, ‘lashed out at a team-mate’ and stormed down the tunnel and ‘would inevitably face discipline from his own club.’

The action was not over, however. For reasons best known to himself, with the game clearly won and just two minutes to go, Wise took it on himself to launch a two-footed challenge on Darren Byfield for which there could only be one outcome, a red card.

Wise is sent for an early bath

Vialli, unhappy about the implications in terms of Wise’s suspension, threw the captain’s armband Wise had passed him to the floor, argued with both the visiting bench and referee Graham Barber as an on-pitch melee broke out, and was booked for his troubles. He was substituted, probably sensibly, and stormed down the tunnel on the final whistle. An unnecessary and unsavoury end to a comfortable night’s football for Chelsea, Villa’s first defeat of the season and their first away defeat since March. The finale certainly set the juices flowing for that weekend’s game, but showed Chelsea’s volatility at a point in the match when what was needed was professional game management. Gregory commented ‘their reserves were better than our reserves…We’ll have to be better on Saturday’.

That was one of three hat-tricks Vialli scored in his time at Chelsea, the other two were against Barnsley and Tromso. The manager was so angry after the match that his assistant Graham Rix had to attend the post-match press conference, where he admitted that Wise ‘had to go’ after his tackle, for which he would indeed receive a four-match ban. Wise, sent off pre-season at Athletico Madrid, dismissed five times in five years and suspended seven times in that time, had then vowed he would never be sent off again. Rix admitted that ‘Luca tends to get a bit emotional’.

The match reports contained news that Danish TV were saying that supposedly transformational signing (admittedly on a Bosman) Brian Laudrup, after just eleven appearances for Chelsea, wanted to leave the club to play for FC Copenhagen, who had played at Stamford Bridge in the Cup-Winners’ Cup first-leg a week earlier. He and his family were apparently unhappy in London and, in particular, unhappy with the school system. Laudrup duly left, his final Chelsea appearance at Leeds the previous weekend, seven weeks into a three-year contract. That blow was bad enough but, worse, less than two weeks later Pierluigi Casiraghi, the club’s other high-profile attacking summer signing, was so badly injured at West Ham he never played again.

The much-anticipated Villa home match the following Saturday was called off because of a waterlogged pitch, just an hour before kick-off, with torrential rain falling on Fulham Road. Amid much confusion we got the tube back to Wimbledon and, as we got off the train there to go home, other Chelsea supporters got on to go to Fulham Broadway, refusing to believe the game was off.

Chelsea, remarkably, won 5-0 at Arsenal in the next round before disappointingly losing 2-1 at Wimbledon in the quarter-final. They finished a creditable third in the League, just four points behind winners Manchester United. Villa finished an off-the-pace sixth, so might have been better taking the League Cup more seriously.

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