It was the cold hard battles in the wet and windy north that Alex Ferguson said would derail our title ambitions, however in the Battle of Blackburn, very much the opposite was true. In a highly physical game where Blackburn threw everything except the kitchen sink at us, Chelsea refused to roll over.
Chelsea were unable to train at Ewood Park on the morning of the game due to a waterlogged pitch which meant Jose’s usual match preparation was disrupted. Drogba had earlier been left in London as he’d picked up a thigh strain in training, meaning that Gudjohnsen started the game up front alongside Robben and Duff, with Tiago selected alongside Lampard and Makalele in the middle. With Huth likely to be out for two months and Carvalho still not ready for a return to first team action, Ferreira, Terry, Gallas and Bridge played at the back with Cech starting in goal, aiming to break the record for consecutive minutes played without conceding.
Blackburn started as they intended to play the whole game, hard and not particularly fair, and lined up in the 4-5-1 formation leaving the pesky Paul Dickov up front alone. It was as early as the third minute that Terry went in for a ball, Dickov left his foot in JT came out worse, commenting later that he thought for a moment he’d broken it, but was lucky enough to be able to run it off. Very shortly after, the ball broke loose and Lampard was first to react and released a lovely ball from inside his own area to Gudjohnsen. Eidur nudged a sweet header into the path of Robben who sprinted towards goal and turned Neill at full pace and hit a sweet shot across Brad Friedel, which the keeper appeared to dive over, and into the far corner for his ninth goal in all competitions. One nil.
Blackburn came out and started putting in heavy challenges in all over the pitch, with Robben one of the first victims after a particularly nasty challenge from Mokoena. Robben had to go off minutes later to be replaced by Joe Cole. By now Cech had broken the record set by Peter Schmeichel for the most consecutive minutes without letting in a goal, he was called into action soon after to make a reflex save from Robbie Savage after he had broken through the Chelsea defence. Savage was to be called offside but it took nothing away from another top drawer stop from Cech.
Blackburn applied the pressure, all to happy to kick ankles to win the ball back again, and had a series of corners but were unable to make anything of them, Chelsea seemed nervous and disorganised but after some screaming from Jose at Joe Cole, we seemed to find our shape and looked far more comfortable again. Later, Blackburn worked the ball came to Savage in the Chelsea penalty area, and after the slightest of touches from Ferreira, he went down and the penalty was awarded after a long pause by Uriah Rennie, despite having a blocked view from some twenty yards away.
Paul Dickov stepped up to take the penalty but Cech dived to his left to get a hand to it and spin it away from goal. In diving to collect the loose ball, Cech took a kick in the ribs after Dickov challenged late and got no where near the ball. Terry took issue with Dickov after seeing his prostrate keeper on the deck and the players surrounded Dickov to have their say, however some semblance of peace was restored once Rennie had gotten control of the situation, why Dickov wasn’t booked only Uriah will know.
Blackburn kept up with the rough stuff and Matteo was booked for a late tackle on Joey Cole, Dickov continued on his one man wind up mission by going in late on Cech again. The keeper was lucky as the tackle was at knee height, if Dickov had made contact, Cech could have been seriously hurt. Terry decided to take things into his own hands again although this time, Gallas was alongside him giving Dickov a piece of his mind too, amazingly the ref still didn’t book Dickov but warned both Terry and Dickov to behave.
The half time whistle was no doubt welcomed by Jose and the players as the cynical and downright dirty play by Blackburn was beginning to take it’s toll on both the players physical and mental condition. The break also came at a good time for the referee, who had all but lost control of the match.
The second half started in much the same vein as the first, however Terry with a strong tackle on Dickov in which replays showed he touched the ball first. Terry also hurt his shoulder in the process as Dickov fell on him but was able to get up only to be greeted with a yellow card from the referee. The deserved booking finally came for Dickov on the hour after challenging with Terry again. They both ended up entangled on the floor and Dickov appeared to grab Terry by the throat, fortuntaly he didn’t react and probably saved himself a red at that point.
The pattern of play continued with numerous fouls all over the pitch and then Chelsea started to slow the ace and hold on to the ball for a while, this as soon broken by Savage taking out Duff in a tackle from behind that again, incredibly, produced no booking. Neither side really got into a rhythm and so the flow of the game suffered as a result. Joe Cole was subbed off in the 79th minute with Jiri ‘Jurassic’ Jarosik coming on in his place to add some strength to the mid-field. Cole was clearly unhappy as he stormed straight past Mourinho and down the tunnel.
Chelsea held on and fought for every last ball until the last minute. Kezman was booked late on for delaying a free kick, and Cech saved a late effort but another brawl kicked off after Cech was again challenged and Makalele appeared to raise his hands to Pederson. At the end of the match, everyone celebrated, hugged and cheered liked we’d won the league, Terry and Lampard in a fantastic embrace with Jose looked unbreakable. Jose then ordered the players over to show their thanks to the supporters who’d sung for them throughout this epic battle, they threw whatever they could to them, shirts, training tops, jackets, it’d didn’t matter.
We can play good football, we can fight,” said Mourinho. “We can fight for points in a game like this – if you can call it a game. I think we can go over every barrier, the spirit was amazing and our players fought a lot. We did it without Didier Drogba, our powerful man, then after five minutes we lose our fastest player. It was difficult for us against a team who had a special attitude. If I was polite I would call it a special attitude. The blond boy in the middle (Robbie Savage) made 20 faults and no yellow card. It’s difficult to control emotions.”
Mourinho was clearly upset and didn’t shake Mark Hughes hand and the end of the match. When quizzed on his shortage of attacking players he commented; “If we don’t have any strikers, JT will play up front and score for us”.
Led superbly by John Terry, this team is fast proving that if you can’t play them off the pitch, you’re certainly not going to kick them off it either. The steely determination in the squad held strong to record our eighth consecutive victory, and eighth consecutive clean sheet. Truly the form of Champions!
Top of the league? We’re having a laugh!
Blackburn Rovers (4-1-4-1): Friedel; Neill, Todd, Nelsen, Matteo; Mokoena; Emerton, Savage, Thompson (Reid 81), Pedersen; Dickov.
Subs: Enckelman (g), Amoruso, Tugay, Johnson.
Booked: Matteo, Dickov.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira, Gallas, Terry, Bridge; Tiago, Makelele, Lampard; Duff, Gudjohnsen (Kezman 82), Robben (J Cole 12; Jarosik 79).
Subs: Cudicini (g), Johnson.
Booked: Terry, Kezman.
Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).