Gudjohnsen 3, 31
Richard Damerell reporting
Chelsea leapfrogged Manchester United to go third in the league
after first half goals from Eidur Gudjohnsen and Gianfranco Zola earnt
Chelsea a 3-0 victory over Birmingham.
Claudio Ranieri's side leapt up a place after United lost 3-1 in
the Manchester derby earlier in the day and the Blues will now look to
turn up the heat on Arsenal and Liverpool after this convincing win.
Gudjohnsen and Zola were the Chelsea heroes as the home side
repeatedly pulled apart Birmingham who looked out of their depth.
Chelsea began the game brightly and were soon passing the ball
around in the fluent fashion that has become their hallmark.
Retaining possession has never been a problem for Chelsea, however, it
is their finishing which has let them down of late as Gudjohnsen and
the injured Hasselbaink had struggled before this game to find the
prolific goalscoring form of last season.
A Birmingham team with an injury hit defence , however, offered the
home forwards a perfect chance to fill their boots, and this looked to
be the case when Gudjohnsen opened the scoring after just three
The Icelandic striker was sent clear by a precise ball from Jody
Morris and he slid his shot into the far corner.
This early blow seemed to shock Birmingham who came close to
equalising twice within the opening quarter of an hour.
Firstly Paul Devlin burst through a static home defence before pulling
his shot past the post. Then Stern John let fly with a stinging shot
from twenty five yards which flew just over the bar.
Graeme Le Saux was getting forward at every opportunity and the
England international found himself in space on the edge of the area
but could only send his shot straight at Nico Vaesen.
Vaesen was left grasping thin air shortly afterwards when Gudjohnsen
struck a second which was almost a carbon copy of his opener.
The visitors did not appear to have learnt from their earlier lapse as
the blonde haired hitman found space again in the area and fired a
drive just inside the far post.
Gianfranco Zola almost added a third minutes later with a rasping
drive that was just off target.
The Italian did not wait long to make amends as he ended the game as a
contest just before half time.
Zola looked to be going nowhere when he ran straight into a Birmingham
defender, but the ball broke kindly for him and he rammed the ball
into the net via the far post.
After the break Stern John could have pulled a goal back for his side,
however, his weak header never looked like troubling Carlo Cudicini.
Seconds later Gudjohnsen should have secured his hat-trick. Having
burst through the pedestrian visitors defence he looked odds on to
score only to flick his shot wide of the net from eight yards out.
By this point Chelsea were coasting and Gallas had a goal ruled out
for offside before Petit rammed a in shot that rattled the crossbar.
As the game neared its conclusion Ranieri sent on Carlton Cole
who had struck twice to send Gillingham spinning out of the
Worthington Cup in midweek. The lanky striker perhaps should have
added to his tally but he mistimed a header from six yards out.
In the dying minutes Nico Vaesen prevented a fourth with a fine
stop from Celestine Babayaro.
At the final whistle Chelsea walked from the pitch no doubt
pondering what part they would play in the ensuing title race whereas
Birmingham were left with the deep rooted worries that come with a
fight for survival.
Man of the Match -Eidur Gudjohnsen (Chelsea):
ruthlessly took advantage of hapless
Melchiot, Gallas, Desailly (Terry 76), Babayaro, Morris, Petit,
Lampard, Le Saux (Gronkjaer 74), Gudjohnsen (Cole 71), Zola.
Subs Not Used: Pidgeley, De Lucas.
Kenna, Purse, Cunningham, Powell (Lazaridis 43), Devlin, Savage, Cisse,
Morrison (Horsfield 63), John (Hughes 73).
Subs Not Used: Bennett, Kirovski.
Ref: D Pugh