Those in the Shed End, a stand bedecked for the night in the visitors' red, were erupting in riotous celebration at their side's second goal when Craig Bellamy quietly turned away from his team-mates to walk alone back to the centre circle, a player lost in his own thoughts. The architect of Liverpool's progress into the last four of this competition had lost a close friend and mentor in Gary Speed on Sunday. Even in victory, football must still have felt trivial.

The forward had been too distraught to play any part in the visit of Manchester City to Anfield that day. This was a wonderful return to action in those desperate circumstances, with Bellamy setting up each of his side's goals to smooth their passage into the semi-finals at Chelsea's expense. When he was substituted 11 minutes from time there were handshakes of appreciation offered by team-mates, and a bear hug from his manager waiting on the touchline. "For someone to come back and play like that …" said Kenny Dalglish, his admiration clear as he drifted into a mumble. Speed would have approved.

Bellamy's poise and delivery had epitomised Liverpool's second-half dominance here, the more imposing of the two selections eventually stamping some authority on a scrappy contest. The home side might have opened the scoring and changed the complexion of the night but Florent Malouda's shot bounced up and off the crossbar, with Sebastián Coates stifling David Luiz's header from the rebound. Liverpool, so aggrieved at having to play just 48 hours after hosting the league leaders, duly snapped out of their slumbers to settle the tie.

Their breaks downfield cut swathes through Chelsea's back line. David Luiz and Ryan Bertrand were bypassed by Jordan Henderson's slide-rule pass that liberated Bellamy down the right, with the forward's delivery across the six-yard box unselfish and inviting. Maxi Rodríguez, a player who so relishes scoring significant goals in the capital and had scored here just nine days previously, converted with ease and the Londoners were floored. The second, a free header from Martin Kelly off Bellamy's free-kick, was softly shipped. These remain testing times for whatever back line is put out by André Villas-Boas.

The Portuguese has now overseen three defeats in four home matches, a troubling statistic with such a decisive Champions League group game to come here against Valencia on Tuesday. This selection had been youthful, maintaining a policy consistent through their three-match involvement in this competition, though the only real mark left by any of the juniors came courtesy of Romelu Lukaku's studs on Henderson's shin just before the interval. Mystifyingly, the referee, Phil Dowd, booked the 5ft 10in Ryan Bertrand for the challenge, as opposed to the 6ft 4in Belgian, with the full-back having dived in from the other side. That summed up the official's rather slapdash first‑half display.

The game should have yielded three penalties in the opening quarter, only for Dowd to leave most people perplexed. Only 165 seconds had elapsed when a backheel from Josh McEachran, whose appearance had been eagerly anticipated only for the teenager to hobble from the fray before the interval, sent David Luiz into the area. Coates's lunge was horribly telegraphed, missing the ball and making clear contact with the Brazilian as he eased beyond him, only for Dowd to deem David Luiz guilty of a dive. The centre-half was booked and might still have been feeling aggrieved five minutes later when he blatantly shoved Andy Carroll in the back as the striker leapt to reach José Enrique's cross.

Yet, once again, the offence was ignored and even the subsequent decision to grant the game's solitary spot-kick was confused. José Enrique's cross was aimed again at Carroll, with Alex edging in front of the forward but jumping with his left arm raised. The ball deflected off the hand only for the officials to freeze while Liverpool players cried foul. Indecision reigned for fully five seconds before the offence was confirmed. Carroll, a player so eager to justify his £35m worth, slapped the kick down the centre when he was permitted to proceed, with Ross Turnbull blocking smartly as he dived to his right.

Carroll recovered his poise thereafter, his muscular presence putting the anaemic Fernando Torres to shame in the opposing ranks, as Liverpool steadily exposed the hosts' brittle confidence.

Dalglish described his striker as "brilliant". "He worked for the team and was fantastic," said the manager. "But every one of my players can look at his own performance and be delighted."

Chief among them would be Bellamy. These are difficult times, but there was pride to be had in this display.