Chelsea were taught a lesson today, but thanks to Glen Johnson’s brilliance it didn’t cost us any points. After bossing Blackburn around and taking a 2-1 lead into half time, we seemed to settle for what we had, meaning one slip would ruin all the hard work. That slip duly happened a few minutes from the end when Wayne Bridge allowed an innocuous cross to run past him and Blackburn sub Paul Gallagher hit what looked like the goal that would cost us yet another two points.
However, moments later a piece of magic from Johnson, twisting past two defenders before firing an unstoppable right-foot screamer into the top right-hand corner, gave us all three points and kept us hanging on to the tails of Arsenal and United.
It should never have been this close, even though we went a goal down within a few minutes of the start when Bridge was beaten in the air and Flitcroft swivelled to hook the nod-down past Cudicini.
With a midfield of Lampard, Makelele, Petit and Parker you reckoned we would have no problem getting the ball, but wondered what we would be able to do with it.
Parker started on the left side with Petit patrolling in the vicinity of the right side and Lampard pushed up close to Mutu and Hasselbaink. Clearly this formation cost us width, but Blackburn’s defence looked as shaky as San Francisco in an earthquake and we carved them open regularly.
Mutu got to the by-line in the seventh minute and pulled his pass back to Makelele of all people in the area. With the goal at his mercy, the Frenchmen suffered altitude sickness and blasted well over. Further shots from Parker and Hasselbaink showed we were getting our range and Rovers only got into our half by running offside, which Yorke and Cole did continually.
On one occasion they miraculously stayed onside to see the ball trickle tamely to Cudicini who blasted the ball under no pressure into Yorke and was fortunate to see it spin away from the open goal.
The inevitable equaliser (if you were a Rovers fan) came after a marvellous reverse pass by Mutu sent Hasselbaink clear in the area. Jimmy calmly laid the ball back for Lampard who casually side-footed in off the far post. It was like so many of the chances Frank missed last week at Scarborough.
We were now pouring forward and Parker, who had switched to the right, wastefully shot at Friedel when sent through like Hasselbaink instead of pulling it back for a colleague. Then Hasselbaink headed over when a wonderful cross from Bridge left him alone in front of goal.
Brilliant vision from Petit brought our second goal on 35 minutes. He pounced on a misplaced Rovers pass and played a first-time ball to Lampard speeding through the middle. This time, the finish was crisp.
At half time there was no way it looked like we could blow this. Every attack had Blackburn in a panic and we controlled the ball.
Twice in the early second-half minutes, Mutu had clear chances. The first he hooked wide in the penalty area, the second was a marvellous chip from outside the area that left Friedel stranded, but the ball curled the wrong side of the post.
Then we made the nearly fatal mistake of playing pretty keep-ball, not even trying to take advantage of the porous Rovers rearguard.
We got a major warning on 65 minutes when Gallagher stole in to deflect a cross past Cudicini. It looked a good goal at the time, but TV replays showed clearly the linesman was right to flag for offside. That didn’t stop the Blackburn crowd from voicing their considerable indignation with the ref.
Gronkjaer came on for an obviously tired Parker after 68 minutes and the ex-Charlton man departed to a rapturous ovation from our travelling hordes.
For the first time, Blackburn were putting pressure on our defence with Mahon brought on to run at Johnson who had had an untroubled afternoon.
We were now relying on breaks and from one, a marvellous Gronkjaer chip found Lampard in the area for a header at full stretch. Friedel made a fine save to claw it away.
Petit, who had a man-of-the-match afternoon, gave way to Melchiot with 10 minutes to go after his longest outing in months. Mario went to right back and Johnson was pushed up into midfield.
The lack of any real sustained effort to get a third goal looked suicidal after Gallagher’s equaliser. We showed immediately what we might have done had we kept putting it to Blackburn. From the kick off we raced upfield and Johnson won a corner after getting to the right byline. The corner was long and Terry back-pedalling furiously managed to nod the ball up in the air and then flick it across the edge of the area to Johnson who was under severe pressure from defenders. The youngster slipped by two defenders and the ball sat up nicely for him to smash his wonderful winner.
Gudjohnsen came on for Mutu after 90 minutes and great work from Gronkjaer, who looked far happier than in recent outings, game the Icelander a chance which he fired inches wide.
At the final whistle, half the team piled on to Johnson showing the enormous relief at not being made to pay for our second-half caution. It’s not clear whether Ranieri orders the team to be cautious or they just adopt the pose on their own. Whatever the cause, we have to get that killer instinct. Until we do, we will continue to squander points we can’t afford.