Di Canio has last laugh at Chelsea comedy store
David Lacey at Stamford Bridge
Monday September 30, 2002
The match programme recalled the first time the team became a music hall joke. "I have only joined Chelsea so as to keep them in the First League," quipped George Robey, who was on the club's books for a time. Robey used to be billed as the Prime Minister of Mirth. Presumably it was the way he told 'em.
In retrospect the best rib-tickler came from Chelsea's manager Claudio Ranieri, who having watched last week's Champions League action on TV declared that "I want to hear the sound of the Champions League live". The only sound he could have heard from departing fans was the echo of a familiar sigh.
West Ham were helped by the general lassitude of Chelsea's approach. Achieving third place by late September appeared to have drained Ranieri's players. Either that or the side is in more need of Gianfranco Zola than ever.
Faced with an awkward Uefa Cup match at Viking Stavanger on Thursday, and aware that in his 36th year the Italian needs to pace a season, the Chelsea manager left Zola on the bench in the hope that reuniting Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen would win the game. Without Zola's vision and craft, however, Chelsea pumped vague high balls towards the front two.
Nobody doubted that West Ham were worth their win. Ranieri was as adamant about that as his opposite number, Glenn Roeder, who now has a breathing space after the flak that followed the tame goalless game at home to Manchester City.
"We took the view that the 0-0 with City was the start of our season because for the first time we had not conceded a goal," Roeder said. Had they not won he would presumably have kept such straw-clutching optimism to himself. Still, the fact that his side had the character to come back twice to win suggested that reports of a crisis are a mite premature. Not that West Ham are out of wood, they have merely found a clearing.
They remain bottom and will need to take at least seven points from their games against Birmingham, Sunderland, Fulham and Everton if the renewed confidence is to survive successive encounters with Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester United.
Teams in West Ham's situation need the odd twist of luck and on Saturday this arrived, in literal form, when Frédéric Kanouté fell awkwardly as he was tackled by Robert Huth and strained a muscle. His replacement, Defoe, immediately set about hanging out the washing on the Siegfried Line, causing Huth no end of bother.
Chelsea had barely mustered an attack when Scott Minto, adjudged to have fouled Huth, conceded a penalty from which Hasselbaink gave them an ill-deserved lead. But as Carlo Cudicini, falling backwards, saved Carrick's deflected shot West Ham still looked the more likely scorers.
Six minutes before half-time Defoe snapped up a rebound following a shot from Steve Lomas and three minutes after it Di Canio flicked the ball up on his right instep before meeting it with a glorious left-footed volley that reached the net almost before Cudicini realised what was happening.
But then Zola came on and in this sort of situation he is a free-kick waiting to happen. Minto obliged with an overzealous lunge, giving Zola the chance to curl a delightful shot beyond David James.
Yet West Ham would not settle for a point and with six minutes remaining a poor header by Mario Stanic was followed by a defensive muddle that allowed Di Canio to slip through and beat Cudicini from an acute angle.
"It was a very big day for the club," Roeder said. "I have the confidence in myself and in my squad that we'll get out of this." Well, it's a start anyway.
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