Football: Croft's finishing lesson puts the master in the shade

Blackburn Rovers 1 Chelsea 0
Click to follow
The Independent Online
In the great tradition of master meets pupil, two figures from this often compelling contest between Premiership aspirants should have had a quiet word with each other afterwards.

The world-famous superstar, Gianfranco Zola, could then have asked the slightly less renowned Gary Croft for a spot of advice on finishing. The former Grimsby defender has gained his first-team chance at Blackburn following the departure of Graeme Le Saux because he is that rarity, even in the Premiership: a left-footed left-back.

That left foot almost opened his scoring account against Everton two weeks ago, but Kevin Gallacher got the faintest of touches to claim the goal. Neither Gallacher nor anyone else got close to Croft's 10th-minute match-winner on Saturday, fired unerringly into the roof of the net from the corner of the penalty area.

It was the sort of goal of which Zola would have been proud. On the other hand, a couple of the Italian's subsequent misses would have embarrassed Croft. If Jeff Kenna's saving scramble denied him on one occasion, there was little excuse for a player of his calibre missing a point-blank header or an inviting volley.

Both chances were set up by Dennis Wise, one Chelsea player who could not be faulted for his effort or his creativity. Ruud Gullit was on his way to catch a plane to London rather than share his thoughts, but he would no doubt argue that his team had plenty of chances to win.

It was 10 minutes before half-time, however, before they started to create those chances. Before that, it was a question of which Chelsea team is the real one, because a much-changed line-up that looked far stronger on paper performed with rather less elan than the reserves who beat Southampton in the CocaCola Cup last week.

Gullit is deeply committed to his squad system and it has served him well this season. But has an English club ever been truly successful without anyone knowing what its best team looks like?

Blackburn do not have the luxury of that sort of depth, but they coped manfully with the absence of one of their essential figures - Colin Hendry.

A reshuffled defence operated effectively and a busy midfield swamped Chelsea, especially after the visitors had to commit more resources to attack.

More than anything, Blackburn showed a commendable obduracy - even though Roy Hodgson claimed to be uncertain of the meaning of the word. A man of his linguistic scope is unlikely to be genuinely in the dark, but the point is that his team is translating his methods into practice.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Pedersen, Henchoz, Croft; Ripley (Wilcox, 68), Sherwood, McKinlay, Flitcroft; Sutton, Gallacher. Substitutes not used: Bohinen, Duff, Broomes, Fettis (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Sinclair, Leboeuf (Granville, 81), Clarke, Babayaro; Petrescu (Flo, 70), Newton, Di Matteo, Wise; Hughes, Zola. Substitutes not used: Vialli, Nicholls, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Booked: Gallacher, Newon, Di Matteo, Sinclair.

Man of the match: Wise.

Attendance: 27,683.

Comments