Blues ride luck to edge past Rovers
Blackburn 1 Chelsea 2
Sam Allardyce rates Nicolas Anelka as the best finisher he has worked with, and reckons if the Chelsea striker was at Blackburn he would score 15 goals per season and enable Rovers to comfortably find the top half of the table.
Unfortunately for the Blackburn manager, matters are not presently arranged along those lines and he has to make do with Jason Roberts instead. After Anelka had equalised the home side's early lead, the substitute had a great opportunity to win the game when magnificent work from Mame Biram Diouf on the right found him in front of goal nine minutes from time. Roberts neatly cut inside his marker yet still missed the target with only Petr Cech to beat, and Blackburn's chance was gone. A minute later, Anelka helped Yury Zhirkov cross from the left for Branislav Ivanovic to secure all three points with a free header.
Victory kept Chelsea five points clear at the top of the Premier League, and though one could not say they did not deserve it, they were flat and somewhat uninspired and would have been punished by deadlier finishers. Allardyce's side did most of the hard work, matched their opponents and made several chances, yet not for the first time failed to find the killer punch.
"We were a little bit lucky," Carlo Ancelotti was honest enough to admit. "Blackburn had a chance to close the game just before we scored. I liked the way Yury set up the winning goal -- he is a very efficient player -- but we could have been out of it. It was an important win. Every team finds it difficult here."
That's still true. Rovers took the game to Chelsea in the opening stages, with Benjani Mwaruwari finding plenty of space. It was from his pass that Diouf almost caught out Cech with a delicate chip in the 15th minute, then a minute later Benjani tested the goalkeeper himself.
Chelsea could hardly complain when Benjani put Blackburn in front midway through the first half, beating John Terry and Alex to a cross from El Hadji Diouf to register his first goal in almost two years. Cech then needed to stretch to prevent Mame Biram Diouf putting Rovers two up on their next attack.
When Michael Essien poked a shot narrowly wide shortly before the interval, it came as something of a shock to realise it was Chelsea's first serious attempt. Yet as Allardyce wearily remarked, when you have quality you don't need to dominate, and the visitors equalised with a goal of sublime simplicity. Florent Malouda hoisted over a cross from the left, Didier Drogba knocked it back across goal from the far post, and Allardyce's favourite striker swept the ball into the net without opposition.
In the second half, Zhirkov brought a fine save from Paul Robinson after Drogba had squared across the six-yard line. Blackburn attempts were becoming scarce, yet Mame Biram Diouf still had the opportunity to restore their lead when Morten Gamst Pedersen's free-kick came through to him at the far post, only for his touch to send the ball wide from no more than a foot out.
Then came what Allardyce termed the golden chance. "I can't really fault Jason, he did everything else right but he put the ball six inches wide," he said. "You have to be ruthless, and that's why Chelsea are at the top and we are near the bottom. If you don't punch opponents when you have the chance, you are asking for a kick in the teeth. That's exactly what we got."