Premier League - Lampard ekes out Chelsea win
Chelsea stopped the rot after a second-half goal from Frank Lampard gave them a 1-0 win at Blackburn Rovers in a fraught match at Ewood Park that was marked by yet another howler from misfiring striker Fernando Torres.
In-form midfielder Lampard scored with a diving heade from Branislav Ivanovic's cross on 51 minutes but Rovers had some great late chances before Torres put in his now customary miss as the Blues scraped out their first win after their 5-3 defeat to Arsenal.
On the overall balance of play the Blues deserved victory, but Rovers battled gamely despite all their problems and the home side created some big opportunities, only denied by poor finishing, the woodwork and the frame of Petr Cech.
The context of the match made both sides a tad nervous: Rovers were lying third bottom at the start of play, with the club having to convince fans to hold fire on their weekly protests at under-fire manager Steve Kean.
Chelsea, meanwhile, had followed defeat to Arsenal with a tepid Champions League draw at Genk, all in the context of an ongoing FA and police investigation into captain John Terry’s alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand in the 1-0 defeat to QPR.
The first half was incident packed but, alas, not in terms of goals or even clear-cut opportunities: the most fun to be had was at the expense of a low-flying light aircraft sporting a huge banner proclaiming “Steve Kean out”, with such expressions of supporter discontent banned from the stands but no the skies.
In football terms, Chelsea saw the lion’s share of possession but were a touch off colour when it counted, the final ball poor and efforts from range wasted.
Lampard’s passes were unable to find their destinations and Daniel Sturridge - leading the line with Didier Drogba suspended and injured, Torres benched and Nicolas Anelka not in the squad - bright off the ball but unable to make the right decisions with it, his inability to finish Florent Malouda’s first-minute ball after Chelsea passed Rovers to sleep from kick off.
Indeed, the best chance of the half fell to Blackburn as Ayegbeni Yakubu poked wide after great work from Mauro Formica on the left: the Nigerian was put off by brave saving challenges from Cech and Ashley Cole, who collided to leave the Blues goalkeeper with a heavily-bloodied (and possibly broken) nose.
Despite a seven-minute delay in patching him up, Cech continued but was not overly tested as his side asked all the questions.
There was a penalty appeal as Sturridge’s legs tangled with Rovers defender Chris Samba - who later came off with a hamstring injury, adding to Blackburn’s existing defensive woes that saw them start the match with midfielder Jason Lowe at right-back and finish the game with novice centre-half Grant Hanley partnering back-up stopper Gael Givet.
Chelsea did fashion a wonderful attacking move that actually managed to carve Rovers apart, but - after a backheel from Sturridge - Ashley Cole was denied by Ruben Rochina’s covering challenge.
Andre Villas-Boas responded by bringing Torres on at the break, Malouda sacrificed despite playing fairly well. But Rovers had the first chance, the unusually quiet Junior Hoilett picking out Formica wide left but the Argentine’s low ball poor with both Yakubu and Hoilett waiting.
Chelsea had bossed possession though - racking up around 80 per cent of the ball at one point - and, on 51 minutes, they finally took a deserved lead when Ivanovic cut inside Jonas Olsson before clipping ina lovely angled cross with the outside of his right boot: Lampard dived in to angle a low header past Paul Robinson for his sixth goal in eight matches.
Blackburn rallied and were denied on two occasions by Cech. The first chance saw the injured keeper pull out a double save, first from Morten Gamst Pedersen’s free-kick and then from Hanley at the rebound, although the 19-year-old Scot should have scored.
Then Cech made a genuinely superb save from Yakubu, closing the angle and diving low to tip behind after the Nigerian shrugged Alex off far too easily.
Chelsea had their chances too, Ramires blocked by Givet after a super ball by Sturridge, who himself kicked air from a couple of yards after Ashley Cole’s low, driven cross.
That was a bad miss - Sturridge claimed he was fouled by Givet but replays showed no contact - and Rovers sensed they could get something from the game.
Indeed, the hosts dominated the final minutes as a Pedersen corner was headed against his own crossbar by Ivanovic, while the Norway midfielder fired just over the final minute.
But the crowning glory came courtesy of Torres who, deep into injury time following a sweeping counter attack, was found unmarked at the far post by Cole’s low cross but - from a couple of yards - fired over with just Robinson to beat.
The Spain star was not punished for his now obligatory howler, as Chelsea closed out a victory that cannot paper over some serious cracks in Villas-Boas’s side.