Sam Allardyce rates Nicolas Anelka 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 finish in 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 on a Yuri 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 Yuri 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 is still true. After a minute's applause to mark Ronnie Clayton's passing, Rovers took the game to Chelsea in the opening stages, with Benjani Mwaruwari finding plenty of space. It was from his pass that Mame Biram Diouf almost caught out Cech with a delicate chip in the 15th minute, then a minute later Benjani tested the goalkeeper. 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, from another searching cross from his namesake.
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 afterwards, 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.
To no one's enormous surprise, Benjani did not reappear for the second half, making way for another infrequent performer in Roberts. Ashley Cole put a good chance wide before Zhirkov brought a fine save from Paul Robinson on the hour, drilling a shot straight at the goalkeeper 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 the wrong side of the upright 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," the Blackburn manager said. "In this game you have to be ruthless, and that's why Chelsea are at the top and we are near the bottom. We gave them a good game, but 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."
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICTMARCUS TATTERSALL, Observer reader Ronnie Clayton would have been proud of them. Rovers were wonderful. We didn't play to the usual Rovers manual; we took the game to the opposition, we were inventive and, with Mame Biram Diouf and Emerton providing support for the excellent Benjani, who totally justified his selection, we carried the game to Chelsea. My only criticism would be Pedersen's distribution from free-kicks. We didn't bully Chelsea; we played them off the park with very good football, which shocked and surprised us. I hope that losing doesn't put Allardyce off adopting this approach again.
The fan's player ratings Robinson 8; Salgado 7, Samba 7, Nelsen 7, Givet 6 (Olsson 35 6); Jones 7; MB Diouf 8, Emerton 8, Pedersen 6; EH Diouf 8 (Dunn 79 n/a); Benjani 9 (Roberts ht 5)
TRIZIA FIORELLINO, ChelseaSupportersGroup.net We made hard work of it. In the first half Blackburn had us really under the cosh. We made a better fist of it in the second half but we could have been 3-0 down at one point. Cole, Zhirkov and Ivanovic were excellent. Ivanovic almost single-handedly won us the game - he seemed to be making up for everybody else's lack of energy. Terry had an off day and Drogba had a diva day. Every so often we have a game like this, it's nothing to do with not liking to come to places like Blackburn. It was a bit of a smash and grab, and the Rovers fans will be disappointed, but that's why we're champions.
The fan's player ratings Cech 7; Ivanovic 9, Alex 8, Terry 7, Cole 8; Essien 7, Mikel 7, Zhirkov 8; Anelka 7 (Ferreira 90 n/a); Drogba 6, Malouda 6 (Sturridge 72 8)
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