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Football: No tea or sympathy for Ashley.

Byline: Oliver Holt SPORTS WRITER OF THE YEAR

NEARLY three months after the previous one, Ashley Cole had another meeting with Chelsea last night.

There were no tea and biscuits this time and no eavesdropping waiters ready to sign affidavits.

But Peter Kenyon was there again. And Jose Mourinho. And more than 40,000 Chelsea fans. So no one could deny this one happened, even though Cole was so quiet in the first half he seemed to be trying to turn himself into the Invisible Man.

Those opening 45 minutes reinforced the impression that the England left-back has been stuck in a limbo land between these two great London sides since the cosy chat in the Royal Park Hotel.

Neither set of fans seemed to want to cheer him at Stamford Bridge last night. Neither wanted to boo him either, because they don't know who he belongs to. And judging by what he said after the FA Cup semi-final, neither does he.

The Chelsea fans didn't even bother to taunt the visiting supporters over Cole. They confined themselves to the far more hurtful 'where's your title gone'.

Anyway, the rumours suggest Chelsea have transferred their affections to Juventus full-back Gianluca Zambrotta.

The consensus was that Cole was the best in his position in the world about the time his agent Jonathan Barnett took him to meet Kenyon and Mourinho.

But since then, his form has dipped under the pressure of the festering controversy surrounding his future.

He still faces the strain of waiting for the Premier League hearing into the affair to begin a couple of days before the FA Cup Final next month.

He may also be wondering why he only got tea and biscuits and Rio Ferdinand managed to get meals at a Greek and an Italian restaurant.

In the circumstances, it is no surprise that he seems temporarily to have lost that extra something that made him so special.

He didn't play badly last night. But he didn't stand out either. He didn't hide, though, and he deserves credit for that.

"I didn't feel any extra pressure tonight," he said after the game, "I just keep taking it on the chin."

Problem is, of course, keep taking it on the chin and you end up getting punch-drunk.

Only when the Premier League's independent commission has made its judgment will Ashley Cole get a chance to return to being the best left-back in the world.

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CHELSEA fans had a message for Ashley Cole
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 21, 2005
Words:417
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