In a match that will forever be remembered as the Guus Hiddink tribute game, matters on the pitch will inevitably be overlooked. In truth, yesterday’s game couldn’t have had less riding on it if it had tried, particularly after Liverpool’s victory earlier in the day had all but secured them second spot. Blackburn had comfortably achieved safety and, at times, played with more freedom than you are ever likely to see from a Sam Allardyce side. The result was an entertaining game that surprisingly only saw two goals, both for the home side. Strikes from the French duo of Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka ensured that Guus Hiddink’s Stamford Bridge farewell was made all the memorable, as Chelsea strolled to their 10th Premier League win out of twelve under the Dutchman.
Looking resplendent in their new home shirts in light drizzle at the Bridge, the hosts started on the front foot and for a third consecutive home match scored in the opening ten minutes. Frank Lampard might have scored before Malouda did, but saw a shot blocked after only 90 seconds. Chelsea did opening the scoring a couple of minutes later, after a flowing move which saw Jose Bosingwa find Anelka in acres of space on the right hand side ended with Malouda expertly guiding a header home from 10 yards. It was Anelka who supplied the pinpoint cross. Malouda has now scored in his last 3 Premier league matches and is Chelsea’s third top scorer in the league with 6 goals.
The frantic start continued as both Pedersen and Samba (twice) had chances to restore parity. Anelka had a shot blocked by the feet of Paul Robinson and Lampard was unfortunate to strike the angle of bar and post with a firm left-footed strike. Bosingwa picked up a yellow card for diving and Chelsea’s other full-back, Ashley Cole, made a number of impressive bursts into the box from deep. On one such occasion he felt aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty. After a lively opening 20 minutes both teams seemed to relax a little. Blackburn were dealt a blow when both their skipper Ryan Nelsen and Gael Givet were forced off injured. I never did hear the matchday announcer tell those that were interested that Zurab Khizanishvili had entered the fray.
After the interval the Chelsea faithful suddenly remembered that this was Hiddink’s last home game in charge at the club and spent much of the next 45 minutes singing in appraisal of the caretaker manager, with some urging the watching Roman Abramovich to make the move permanent. Hiddink seemed genuinely delighted by the rapturous ovation that he received 5 minutes into the second half, as all four stands stood as one to acknowledge his impressive achievements over the past 3 months. As play continued he stood up and waved to the crowd; thousands chanted ‘Guus Hiddink’s blue and white army’ and ‘We want you to stay’. His contractual obligations to the Russian national team mean this is very unlikely, but as a man who thrives on popular support, which he achieved most notably in South Korea and Australia, it is not unreasonable to suggest that he wishes he could land the job, surely one of the most rewarding, on a permanent basis.
All the while, Chelsea began pouring forward in their search for a second goal, and it arrived in the 59th minutes courtesy of a sweet Anelka strike. Cole’s cross was missed entirely by the diving Malouda, but Drogba picked up the pieces to lay the ball back to the lurking Frenchman who in turn lashed home. It was no less than the Blues deserved, especially after Cole had had an extremely legitimate claim for a penalty denied only minutes earlier. The rest of the match became something of a procession – Chelsea attacked vigorously but kept coming up short in front of goal. Lampard was guilty of being overly intricate as he bore down on Robinson, while the stretching Malouda could only divert a Lampard cross back into the Blackburn keeper’s arms. Essien had a strike well saved while Anelka might have put himself clear at the top of the Premiership’s goalscorer chart with the final chance of the game. Again, Robinson’s feet kept him out as he shot from a tight angle. Tugay penultimate appearance for Rovers nearly saw a trademark long range goal, but Cech was equal to the task. And that was that. An emotional and tired Stamford Bridge bode farewell to Hiddink, including the players, who formed a guard of honour before doing a lap of the pitch. A win at Wembley is imperative if Hiddink’s reign is not to be overshadowed by a Cup Final defeat; as the man himself said, ‘There is still work to be done’