Football: Vialli sent off as Rovers rally

Chelsea 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
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A MATCH that had simmered throughout the second half of what Brian Kidd, the Blackburn manager, described as a "typical blood and thunder" Premiership meeting, finally erupted five minutes from time when Chelsea's player-manager, Gianluca Vialli, was ordered off along with Blackburn's England Under- 21 defender, Marlon Broomes, following an incident on the edge of the Blackburn penalty area.

It was the final act of a furious match which produced seven yellow cards in addition to the two reds, and occurred just a minute after Blackburn had equalised with a superbly headed goal by Ashley Ward from substitute Keith Gillespie's perfectly flighted cross.

"Franck Leboeuf played a long ball through for me, I pushed Broomes and then I fell over and twisted my ankle," Vialli explained. "I don't know if I deserved to be sent off."

Both teams had negotiated difficult ties in the FA Cup at the weekend but last night was time to refocus on the Premiership. History at least was on Blackburn's side, having never lost in the Premiership at Stamford Bridge, but the way Chelsea started that record looked set to go. In the first minute Vialli found space on the right and crossed invitingly for Gianfranco Zola but the Italian's downward header was well dealt with by John Filan in the Blackburn goal.

His opposite number Ed de Goey was called on to make a similarly smart save a couple of minutes later from Matt Jansen and then, with 10 minutes gone, Chelsea won a contentious penalty. Vialli, stealing in between the central defenders, seemed to get a nudge from Broomes and went down under the challenge, but players of both sides looked a little bemused when the referee pointed to the spot. As it was though Leboeuf's kick was expertly tipped on to his right-hand post by Filan.

Chelsea continued to create the better chances with Roberto Di Matteo, Zola and Vialli all going close before they finally took the lead two minutes before half time. Di Matteo swung over a corner from the Chelsea left that was only half cleared and Jody Morris, from the edge of the area, shot beyond Filan's dive into the bottom corner.

Blackburn introduced Gillespie at half-time in an attempt to exploit the weakness on Chelsea's left flank caused by the departure of Graeme Le Saux with a leg injury midway through the first period. But chances were thin on the ground for both sides as the game began to turn sour following a succession of wild lunges and a spate of yellow cards. Vialli himself had the best chance to clinch it for Chelsea but he was denied again by Filan before Gillespie and Ward combined to bring Blackburn level and provide the catalyst for the real fireworks.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Lambourde, Leboeuf, Desailly, Le Saux (Newton, 25); Petrescu (Goldbaek, 80), Di Matteo, Morris (Forssell, 88) Babayaro; Vialli, Zola. Substitutes not used: Terry, Hitchcock (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-3-1-2): Filan; Kenna, Henchoz, Broomes, Croft (Peacock, 85); McAteer, Dunn, Marcolin (Gillespie, h-t); Jansen (Duff, 80); Ward, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Blake, Flowers (gk).

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).