The supporters yelled their warm goodbyes and his secretaries presented him with an engraved memento before the kick-off, but sadly for Glenn Hoddle, his players could not give him the one leaving present he would have wanted above all. Despite a late rally, his tenure as Chelsea manager ended in defeat, and it is to be hoped that his new employees do not inherit the defensive frailties which could have turned yesterday's defeat from a disappointment into a huge embarrassment.
The sole source of satisfaction for the home fans yesterday was the performance of Ruud Gullit, their unanimous choice to be Hoddle's successor, and not least the sight of the Dutchman still making eager runs up field in the second minute of injury time. There were many at the start of the season who questioned Gullit's durability, but yesterday's match was his 40th of the campaign (he has missed 10) and his touch and vision were as irresistible as ever.
Even in defeat, Gullit was a pivotal figure, and indeed for the first 25 minutes the only reason for paying attention, while his team-mates imitated is languidness but not the style. Blackburn too contributed their share to the torpor of the first half-hour, with only the excellent Billy McKinlay appearing likely to unlock the Chelsea defence.
However, the match suddenly came alive. First, Dennis Wise opened the scoring at the end of a five-man move, poking home Scott Minto's cross. Next, Gullit's long gallop towards goal was interrupted by Chris Coleman as he prepared to shoot, and 15 seconds later, Graham Fenton's cross from the left found Tim Sherwood unmarked to head Rovers level.
Chelsea should have gone ahead again two minutes later, when Wise's long ball sprung Gullit through the offside trap. He unselfishly pulled the ball back for John Spencer, who shot low at Flowers when the slightest lift on the ball would have found the net.
The half-time deadlock slightly flattered Blackburn, and the retiring champions were perhaps as surprised as anyone when, within two minutes of the restart, they were in front. Jeff Kenna's cross allowed Billy McKinlay to head home without a challenge, and 11 minutes later it was three. Jason Wilcox's strong run up the left was followed by a perfect cross to Paul Warhurst, whose square pass to Fenton left the striker with an easy opportunity.
By now, the Chelsea defence seemed to have started its summer holiday half an hour early, and the retiring champions started to create chances at will. Warhurst could have scored but for a brilliant tackle by Dan Petrescu, and then hit the bar from the resultant corner. He should have scored with two minutes left, when his shot was blocked by Erland Johnsen, and Stuart Ripley wasted a chance. Their profligacy threatened to be costly when Spencer shot home from Petrescu's headed cross with a minute left.
Their new manager will inherit a team of considerable attacking potential. Unless his defence can be persuaded to act as a unit, however, defeats such as yesterday's will be commonplace. The fans took it all in fairly good heart, but Hoddle may have reflected that in his new job, even one such reverse will be one too many.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Kharin; Myers, Lee (Furlong, 90), Johnsen; Minto, Wise, Spackman (Peacock, 67), Burley (Petrescu, 64); Spencer, Gullit; Hughes.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Coleman, Hendry, Berg; Wilcox, McKinlay, Sherwood, Ripley; Fenton (Bohinen, 72), Gallacher (Warhurst, 27). Substitute not used: Croft.
Referee: M Bodenham (Looe). Attendance: 28,346.
Booked: Chelsea Wise; Blackburn Sherwood, Bohinen.
Man of the match: Gullit.Reuse content