Cole strike sinks Rovers
Chelsea returned to winning ways as Joe Cole's first-half strike extended Blackburn's miserable run
Last Updated: 23/12/07 7:06pm
Chelsea returned to winning ways as Joe Cole's first-half strike gave them all three points at Ewood Park and extended Blackburn's miserable run.
The Blues were put under extreme pressure early on but broke the shackles to take the lead after 22 minutes, with Cole latching onto a fine pass from Salomon Kalou and finishing expertly past Brad Friedel.
The woodwork was rattled three times in the first half and the chances kept coming after the break as Blackburn pushed forward in pursuit of an equaliser.
Petr Cech had to be substituted after picking up an injury but his replacement Hilario pulled off a superb save to deny Roque Santa Cruz and keep Chelsea in touch with the Premier League leaders Arsenal and Manchester United.
Blackburn, by contrast, have now won only one of their last eight games and will need to get back on track after Christmas if they are to stay in contention for a place in Europe.
Strong start from Rovers
For the opening 20 minutes Blackburn appeared anything but a team that had lost their previous three matches coming into this game.
Mark Hughes' side took the game to Chelsea and should have opened the scoring, but when your luck is out the opportunities they created always seem to end up the wrong side of the woodwork.
So it proved, sparked by an inswinging corner from Morten Gamst Pedersen that flew through the six-yard box and inches beyond the far post, with no Rovers player able to conjure a decisive touch.
That had come after a crucial block from Ricardo Carvalho who was starting his first league game since November 11, with the centre-back flinging his body in front of a rasping drive from an in-form Santa Cruz.
It was an enthralling start from Rovers, with David Bentley then shaving the bar with a rising drive from the edge of the area two minutes later.
Bentley was closer still in the 11th minute, curling a free-kick from the left wing onto the crossbar after he had been felled by Alex that brought a yellow card for the centre-back.
Still Rovers continued to press, and in the 13th minute a superb ball from Bentley into Santa Cruz culminated in the Paraguay star firing a 16-yard angled effort inches wide of the right-hand post.
Perhaps inevitably, given all those missed chances, it came as no surprise when Chelsea took the lead in the 22nd minute.
They should have done so a minute earlier, only for a shot on the turn from Andriy Shevchenko clearing the bar from eight yards instead of bursting the net.
That privilege was reserved for Joe Cole as a woeful clearance out of defence was seized upon on the halfway line by Chelsea.
Within seconds Kalou had played a punishing cross-field ball into the path of Cole who finished a surging run with a 16-yard strike into the top left-hand corner.
Undaunted, Blackburn struck the bar again, this time following a stunning save from Cech.
From a short free-kick, Bentley thundered a 30-yard drive into the wall from where Santa Cruz teed up Steven Reid from 15 yards, only for Cech to push the shot onto the crossbar.
Striking the woodwork, though, was not the sole preserve of Rovers as Lampard followed suit within three minutes.
Allowed the freedom of Ewood Park, the Chelsea captain saw a 20-yard effort touched onto the right-hand post by the fingertips of Friedel, denying him his 100th goal for the club.
There was still time in the half for Zurab Khizanishvili, starting his first league game this season in the absence of the suspended Christopher Samba, to shave the crossbar with a back-flick header to another inswinging Bentley free-kick.
Despite all those chances, Blackburn then failed to conjure one when it mattered most after Cech received treatment early in the second half for a hip injury.
The Chelsea star limped around gingerly for 11 minutes before finally calling it a day just after the hour, and without being tested.
His withdrawal gave Hilario his first appearance since January 13, and within moments he was villain and hero, with the Portuguese lucky to escape for an early indiscretion.
Hilario appeared a goalkeeper inactive for almost a year as he was nowhere near a Bentley corner, but was fortunate to see a downward header from Santa Cruz finish a yard wide of his left-hand post.
However, the 32-year-old instantly redeemed himself with an outstanding fingertip stop to turn past the post a bullet header from Santa Cruz in meeting a left-wing cross from Bentley.
|Blackburn Rovers||Team Statistics||Chelsea|
|0||1st Half Goals||1|
|3||Shots on Target||4|
|10||Shots off Target||2|