Chelsea 2-1 Coventry City

FA Carling Premiership

Darren Steward reports

Gianfranco Zola's first goal in the Premiership for 26 games helped Chelsea to a comeback win over Coventry at Stamford Bridge, keeping Chelsea's hopes of a Champions League place alive.

The Italian striker met a George Weah pass on the full from 15 yards to scupper Gordon Strachan's hopes of an elusive away win.

Both teams were struggling to come to terms with the conditions in rain-lashed West London - a multitude of passes were misjudged, and on many occasions the skidding ball failed to reach its intended recipient - this was more octopush* than Premiership push!

Tore Andre Flo showed willing as the fans bated, blasting a 20 yard shot just over after fine work on the left by Gianfranco Zola.

But Coventry took the lead after 17 minutes. Noel Whelan made the most of a hesitant Chelsea rearguard to lay off a square ball, overstepped by Colin Hendry, and Gary McAllister lashed comfortably past Ed De Goey to become joint top scorer for the Sky Blues this term.

Chelsea rallied back, but their neat football was coming unstuck on a difficult surface, and last-ditch, sleeves-rolled-up challenges from the Coventry rearguard kept them out.

There was a tenacious belief in the visitors' play - a conviction that with some dogged defending and team spirit, they might be able to snatch that first away win of the season.

FA Cup hero Gustavo Poyet had the best first-half chance for the home side, wriggling through the Coventry defence before hitting the side-netting with a right-footed angled drive.

In the second-half, Gianluca Vialli's side seemed reluctant to accept the status quo. Dennis Wise prompted Roberto Di Matteo adeptly, and the Italian drove agonisingly wide of Magnus Hedman's right upright.

Vialli threw Gabriele Ambrosetti and George Weah into the fray at the expense of the tiring Di Matteo and Flo. The move reaped almost instant dividends.

Ambrosetti curled in a cross from the left, Weah distracted Hedman with his aerial challenge, and Hendry's reddened thigh turned the ball into his own net.

Moments later, the West London side had the lead. Jody Morris played a flighted ball which embarrassed Richard Shaw. Weah anticipated the mistake brilliantly, drew Hedman and Zola fired home from 15 yards.

What inspired the little Sardinian's clinical finish? Was he fighting for an FA Cup final place, or was he peeved that Colin Hendry had netted as many Premiership goals this season for Chelsea before that strike?

Amazingly, it was the former Parma man's first league goal since the opening day of the season!

Coventry were not dead and buried. They kept pushing forward, and McAllister's swerving 30-yarder deserved a better fate than thudding against a hoarding adjacent to De Goey's post.

Chelsea should have wrapped the game up with twelve minutes remaining but Ambrosetti drove his shot from ten yards just wide.

* Octopush is a form of underwater water polo.

Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu, Thome, Leboeuf, Harley, Di Matteo (Dalla Bona 55), Wise, Morris, Poyet (Ambrosetti 49), Flo (Weah 49), Zola.
Subs Not Used: Hogh, Hitchcock.
Goals: Hendry 53 og, Zola 58.

Coventry: Hedman, Telfer, Shaw, Hendry, Froggatt, Chippo, Quinn, McAllister, Hadji (Burrows 78), Whelan (Zuniga 77), Keane.
Subs Not Used: Breen, Eustace, Ogrizovic.
Goals: McAllister 18.
Att: 32,316
Ref: G Poll (Tring).