Football: Minto's fast reply rescues Chelsea

Chelsea 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Online
With an FA Cup quarter-final at Portsmouth on Sunday no doubt on their minds, Chelsea produced an understandably distracted performance at Stamford Bridge last night but were still able to respond after their more accomplished visitors threatened to depart with all three points.

When Per Pedersen scored his first goal for his new side with a brave header just past the hour, Blackburn may have entertained hopes of only their second away victory in the Premiership this season. The lead lasted barely 60 seconds, however, with Rovers' otherwise impressive defence breached when Scott Minto rifled home a memorable equaliser from 20 yards out.

A week after the controversial victory over Leicester, a subdued game could hardly have offered a starker contrast, a point Ruud Gullit readily acknowledged, but the Chelsea manager was at least happy that his side had survived the 90 minutes without picking up any further injuries.

With Chelsea facing six games in 18 days, Gullit must have been tempted to rest Gianfranco Zola, who missed his first game in a defeat at Derby on Saturday. But the Italian returned, with his compatriot Gianluca Vialli taking his normal position on the bench.

Eddie Newton, who had an operation on Monday, was missing, though, and, with Steve Clarke named as a replacement, Andy Myers and Paul Hughes were given the opportunity to start. It was an old stalwart who made the first impact, however, with Dennis Wise booked after a couple of minutes after questioning a foul on Graeme Le Saux.

The former Chelsea player was lustily booed after the incident, which briefly saw the two squaring up, but seemed genuinely bemused that it had led to a yellow card.

The home side, seven places above their visitors, made a tentative start, prompting frequent chants of "useless, useless" from the vociferous Blackburn following. Not that the visitors were much better, shots from Tim Sherwood and Garry Flitcroft being the best efforts of a sterile opening half hour.

As the half drew to a close Chelsea finally roused themselves, the best of a clutch of chances falling to Zola a minute before the break. Wriggling free in the box, he saw a first shot blocked by Jeff Kenna, the second demanding an excellent save by Tim Flowers.

Blackburn were forced to replace Colin Hendry at half-time, but the absence of their opponents' defensive rock offered Chelsea little encouragement as the Rovers rearguard carried on playing with the assurance that has made it the second meanest in the Premiership.

Rovers continued to offer the greater threat, particularly when releasing Jason Wilcox down the left, but found clear-cut chances equally difficult to create. Then, just as the game appeared destined for a stalemate, it produced two goals.

Rovers took the lead when the Dane Pedersen, in his second full game since his pounds 2m signing from Odense, headed home Wilcox's cross from close range. Hardly had the Rovers' celebration died down when Zola teed up Minto to fire the equaliser.

Chelsea (3-5-2): Grodas; Sinclair, Leboeuf, Myers; Petrescu (Burley, h-t), Wise, P Hughes (Morris, 64), Di Matteo, Minto; Zola (Vialli, 72), M Hughes. Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), Clarke.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Hendry (Bohinen, h-t) Berg, Le Saux; Marker, Sherwood, Flitcroft, Wilcox; Pedersen (Warhurst, 71), Gallacher. Substitutes not used: Given (gk), Duff, Croft.

Referee: G Barber (Pyrford, Surrey).