BLACKBURN ROVERS 2-3 CHELSEA
I can count on one finger (probably the middle one) the number of enjoyable trips we have had to this godforsaken place. Four thousand holes in Blackburn Lancashire? More like four thousand points lost or given away. I am not one of those people who keep records of previous games, but by my reckoning we have played 16 games against this lot before this game and picked up three points just the once — what a record.
But, ever full of hope and belief in a team that does not always deserve it, we find ourselves once more in the middle of nowhere on what was actually a pleasant evening. Positively barmy for the north of England in fact.
The black kit —more of a fashion statement than a real go at a football shirt — saw its first competitive outing and on this performance we should maybe ask the club to use it every week. For this, without a doubt, was our best 90 minutes of football all season. That we only sneaked a win at the end of the day owed more to inept refereeing — for a change (sic) — and a mistake by Carlo. How many times has that been said before?
We started the game with a blinding rendition of ‘One man went to mow’ and the players certainly seemed to sense that we almost outnumbered the home fans with some really good possession and passing at the start. Yet the early opportunities all went the way of the Rovers. Carlo was called on to make a couple of sharp stops within the first five minutes. Our first real effort on goal came after ten minutes, when Jesper crossed for Jimmy Floyd to glance a free header a mile over the bar. Jesper played this game in the way that we know he can, but so rarely see him do. He had their left back for breakfast, lunch, dinner and tea. The only thing lacking on the odd occasion was the final ball at the end of it.
Then came the sixteenth minute and Old Mother Riley decided to give a penalty that never was. It appeared to me to be: a) not a foul; and b) a mile outside the penalty area. The fact that the great big hole in the pitch where Baba slid in (4001 holes in Blackburn Lancashire) was outside the box did not seem to matter to either the referee or his assistant. Both Baba and Stanic found themselves booked and Carlo was sent the wrong way for us to go one down.
There were chances at both ends before some excellent work by Jimmy Floyd led to the ball being rolled back for Jesper to smash in the equaliser. We were so much on top for the rest of the half that there could only be one team that would score, and guess what? It wasn’t us. Into injury time and Andy (or Andrew) Cole laid the ball across for Thompson who hit a low shot through a crowd of players to send them in one up. Carlo should certainly have done better with the effort, but he has earned the right to make a mistake or two, so we will let that one go.
After the break we continued in the same vein, creating plenty of chances but not quite being able to find the final pass. Until a strange equaliser came early into the half. Jesper had one of the worst shots on goal you are ever likely to see, which seemed to be squirting out for a throw. Just about everyone stopped, save for Stanic and Zola. Stanic popped the ball into the box and there was Franco (all 18 inches of him) totally unmarked and able to head the ball into the net for a deserved equaliser. Jimmy Floyd did have the ball in the net just after the hour mark, but was ruled offside by the same linesman who did not know where the penalty area was in the first half.
It seemed that there would be a winner in the game (unlike the two games last season) and everyone had their fingers crossed that it would be us. With ten minutes left, our prayers were answered. Zenden played the ball out to Zola on the left, he ran at goal, their defender made the fatal mistake of backing off, giving Franco enough room to curl the ball past Friedel in the Blackburn goal. Lots of mad dancing and singing ensued. Not quite up to the Charlton celebrations (we still had ten minutes to go) but fun in any case.
Blackburn did rally a little towards the end, as you would expect, and only an excellent save from Carlo and a good clearance from Melchiot ensured that we came away with the three points we both needed and deserved. A real team effort tonight and some outstanding performances all over the park. Special mention should go to Jody Morris and Mario Stanic, who both had excellent games. They often get slaughtered by the fans — Jody more for his off the park activities — so credit where it is due. Newcastle next, and I would guess a number of changes once more. This season, although hardly started, is suddenly becoming one full of promise. Long may it continue.
Chelsea line-up: Cudicini — Babayaro, Desailly, Gallas, Melchiot — Stanic (Zenden 71), Morris (De Lucas, 86), Lampard, Gronkjaer (Gudjohnsen, 76) — Zola, Hasselbaink.
Unused subs: de Goey, Huth