Chelsea’s penalty woes returned on Wednesday evening as they exited the Carling Cup following a shoot-out failure against Blackburn Rovers. The dramatic encounter had finished 3-3 after extra time.
Carlo Ancelotti made a spring of changes to the side which had demolished Arsenal on Sunday; Hilario, Ferreira, Belletti, Zhirkov, Malouda, Ballack, Deco and Kalou were all brought in. Didier Drogba was the only big name to feature on a young substitutes bench, alongside the likes of Kakuta, Bruma and Matic.
It was the home side who opened the scoring after only nine minutes. Some good work down the left was rewarded when Kalinic tapped home, exposing a static Blues defense. Chelsea tried to respond but found decent chances hard to come by. Kalou went well wide with a diving header, whilst a well-struck Michael Ballack volley only found the side-netting.
Blackburn had played well and deserved their lead at the break. Ancelotti responded to what was at best an insipid first half display by hauling off Deco, Belletti and Joe Cole, replacing them with Drogba, Jeffrey Bruma and Gael Kakuta respectively. The changes brought instant dividends, with a Malouda cross expertly headed home by the powerful Drogba only three minutes into the second period.
Chelsea were playing their best football now and scored a second ten minutes later. A Blackburn corner was cleared and Yuri Zhirkov picked up the pieces, beautifully releasing Kalou. The forward, who started his run inside his own half, coolly slotted the ball under the onrushing Paul Robinson to give Chelsea the lead.
At that stage it seemed like the Blues would cruise from then on in; however two incidents in quick succession were to change the course of the game again and throw the initiative back in Blackburn’s favour. First, a deflected Brett Emerton cross somehow found its way through Hilario’s legs to level the scores, before moments later Kalou limped off injured with a thigh problem. Having made all three changes Chelsea were forced to play the last twenty minutes, and eventually extra-time, with ten men.
The Blues held out to extra-time courtesy of some last-ditch defending, coupled with some wasteful finishing by the home side. The extra thirty minutes began in the worst possible fashion, with Zhirkov blatantly fouling Blackburn substitute someone Hoilett. Benni McCarthy scored the resulting penalty, and this time looked to have sealed the match once and for all.
Blackburn really should have added to their lead when Hoilett twice fired horribly wide when in acres of space and with seemingly endless men over. Chelsea were unable to produce any productive play in the final third, although Drogba might have equalized when through on goal, only to be brilliantly shackled by Christopher Samba. As the match entered the second minute of injury time at the end of the second half of extra-time, the game took another twist. Florent Malouda lobbed a free-kick in the vague direction of the goal. Robinson came to punch but flapped, and the ball dropped invitingly at the feet of Paulo Ferreira. Time stood still. The Portuguese full-back took a touch before throwing his right leg at the ball, before being clattered by Robinson. The travelling faithful held their breath, but needn’t have worried. The ball flew into the back of the net and players and fans alike mobbed one another.
So penalties would be the divisive factor following a game which had swung one and another. The normally reliable Ballack was thwarted by an excellent Robinson save. Drogba, Zhirkov and Malouda all scored, while for Blackburn Kalinic missed, with McCarthy, Emerton, Grella and Hoilett scoring. Kakuta had to score to keep Chelsea in the game but could only fire his penalty straight at Robinson, completely an extraordinary evening which eventually saw Chelsea exit the Carling Cup.