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CHELSEA 4 - SAINTS 0
2:49pm Tuesday 30th May 2006 in 03-04 Season
FOR MOST PEOPLE chemistry experiments were the best part of school because when they went wrong things dramatically exploded.
It seems football management's not that different.
Paul Sturrock pushed his Saints class to an experiment of formations and personnel at Stamford Bridge on Saturday - and it blew up in his face.
There is an excuse - and a valid one at that - with Saints missing no less than seven first-team regulars.
But the men in the squad at the weekend are the last ones standing so Sturrock will have to find a way of balancing the elements in the final three games of the season.
At times the formation was baffling.
It was a 3-5-2 but looked lop-sided. Darren Kenton and Paul Telfer seemed to play an orthodox 4-4-2 right-sided pairing, Martin Cranie on his debut was often more of a left-back because the central midfield three left that side of the pitch exposed - much to the delight of the ever-willing Jesper Gronkjaer.
After the game, some claimed that, until they conceded, Saints had done well.
The truth was that, until they conceded, Saints looked like they could concede as soon as Chelsea got their act together.
There's no shame in that. Saints had so many injuries and Chelsea are a very good side.
But Sturrock's team had to work so hard on defence that they didn't look like they would have created a chance off their own backs if they would still have been there now.
James Beattie and Kevin Phillips worked hard but were left isolated.
The midfield did nothing to create any chances and were often by-passed, then caught not supporting the strikers quickly enough.
Probably the biggest crime, alongside not exploiting the width normally associated with a 3-5-2, was giving the ball away too easily.
In terms of personnel, there was a first start for Kenton who did more than enough to suggest he can be the regular right back next season.
On no less than four occasions he was called upon to track Chelsea runners and make superb last-ditch tackles - Joe Cole, Eidur Gudjohnsen twice and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink the men denied.
There was a debut for 17-year-old Cranie. He may have scored an own goal but, in the toughest and harshest of footballing environments, he offered enough industry and awareness to be a big hope for the future.
After a first half that - with the exception of a Beattie free-kick, ten minutes before Antti Niemi superbly tipped over from Cole - was all Chelsea, Saints almost took the lead in the second period.
A weak header back to Carlo Cudicini from John Terry was pounced upon by Phillips.
It was a tough chance as he tried to lift it over the advancing keeper but, on current form, you would have backed him to convert.
Sadly, though, Cudicini caught it and Chelsea went up the other end and scored.
Gronkjaer's corner struck the unfortunate Cranie and flew into the top corner of the net.
After Niemi kept the score down with a couple more good saves, sub Brett Ormerod could have levelled.
Again the chance was created by the Chelsea defence, with Mario Melchiot this time the man guilty of a weak header. This was in the six-yard box, and Ormerod pounced, but Cudicini was alert and spread himself to keep out the shot.
Chelsea again went up the other end and scored.
Gudjohnsen charged for goal but was stopped by an excellent Kenton challenge, only for the ball to break for Frank Lampard to finish for 2-0.
From then on it was a matter of how many more Chelsea would get.
Sturrock had admirably gone for a win, but Saints were exposed at the back and Chelsea took advantage.
With seven minutes remaining, Hasselbaink's shot was pushed out by Niemi but only into the path of the on-rushing Lampard who again gratefully converted the chance for his second of the day and his 15th of the season.
Then, three minutes later, the misery was complete when Gudjohnsen pulled the ball back from Saints' left by-line for sub Glen Johnson, who marked his return from injury with a neat first-time finish to seal Saints' heaviest defeat of the campaign.
With nothing but a few places and a few quid left to play for, this is the time for Sturrock to be experimenting.
No doubt he will have learned a lot, despite the humbling scoreline - and now he has choices to make for the next three games with only the same, small band of fit players to select from.
At the very least, this is one experiment he can cross off his list ...