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Vialli Double as Palace Hit For Six

It was March 1998. Gianluca Vialli had been Chelsea manager for five games, taking the reins after the controversial departure of Ruud Gullit. He had won two cup-ties, with superb team performances against Arsenal in the League Cup semi-final second-leg and at Real Betis in the Cup-Winners’ Cup. The League, however, had proved trickier. Three games, three defeats, two of those at Stamford Bridge and no goals. Chelsea were in fifth place and still in with a chance of Europe but Vialli needed to start winning League games and quickly.

On Wednesday 11th March they had a home League game against bottom-placed Crystal Palace, who had lost six League games in a row and had won none of their previous thirteen League games. Palace were in the headlines, being in the throes of a takeover by entrepreneur and club director Mark Goldberg, a man with big pockets and bigger ideas. There was talk in the papers that week of them signing Paul Gascoigne from Rangers for £3m and replacing manager Steve Coppell with Terry Venables, neither of them being cheap deals.

Vialli, knowing rebuilding was going to be necessary, went into the game proclaiming to the Daily Star ‘We have 25 players, and we want to see who is going to be good enough for next season and who is not’. Gianfranco Zola had not scored since a hat-trick against Derby County 102 days previously. Tore Andre Flo was on better form, scoring both in the superb 2-0 win away to Real Betis.

Vialli left out Flo and Mark Hughes as his side lined up :- Kharine; Petrescu, Clarke, LeBoeuf, Granville; Sinclair (Lambourde 82), Morris (P. Hughes 85), Wise, Newton; Vialli (Flo 75), Zola.

31,917, a below-average home crowd for that season despite the game being a London derby, saw Chelsea concede a shock early goal scored by Herman Hreidarsson, Palace’s first League goal for 523 minutes and a shock for the home support. Chelsea regrouped and Vialli equalised from a Zola corner after fifteen minutes, his first as manager.

Vialli equalises

Petrescu and Clarke join Vialli in celebrates his equaliser

His side assumed total control as a fragile Palace spent much of the remaining 75 minutes chasing shadows. Two minutes later Zola broke his scoring drought, dancing round Palace keeper Kevin Miller, and Vialli scored the third just before half-time.

Zola puts Chelsea Ahead

The home side continued to dominate and Vialli took himself off for Flo after 75 minutes. Dennis Wise netted six minutes from time.

Wise Enjoys Scoring The Fourth Goal

Marcus Bent pulled one back for Palace but two late Flo goals, both made by young club product Paul Hughes, sealed a memorable Chelsea victory and a move up to fourth place.

Flo completes the scoring

Chelsea had completely dominated the game, with 70% possession and thirteen shots against just three. Vialli rightly praised Zola, who had a superb game, observing that ending his drought would be a ‘huge boost’ and agreeing it was a ‘great feeling to get his first win and first premiership points.’

Scoring six having netted none in their four previous Premier League games certainly boosted confidence among the team and this turning point set Vialli on the right road. They went on a decent run which not only kept them in a highly satisfactory fourth place at the end of the season but, crucially, put them in such a positive frame of mind for the crucial cup-ties.

Goldberg indeed bought Palace, but despite spending a large chunk of his fortune could not avoid relegation, and they duly finished the season bottom. Venables was appointed, though Gazza never arrived, but Goldberg was personally bankrupted in 2000 and Palace went into administration, a saga that deserves a book of its own.

Chelsea had a far more successful remainder of the season, winning both the League Cup and the Cup-Winners’ Cup, in, at that point, the club’s most successful season ever. The much-loved Vialli, who so sadly passed away recently, deserved enormous credit for picking up the managerial baton from Gullit so gloriously successfully.

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