Football: Zola so good for Chelsea

Blackburn Rovers 1 (Gallacher 56) Chelsea 1 (Petrescu 82) Attendance: 27,229
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The Independent Online
Whatever Alan Sugar might think about the mythical foreigner he calls Carlos Kickaball, there can be no difference of opinion over Gianfranco Zola. Those who witnessed the Italian international's impact on Chelsea's training sessions last week saw a player whose motivation seems to have little to do with mercenary greed and everything to do with a desire to conquer the challenge of the Premiership. His debut yesterday provided emphatic confirmation.

Blackburn, without a manager but determined to rise above their worrying predicament at the bottom of the table, produced a typically English performance that would have tested any newcomer; but this dynamic little player grew in stature the more intense the contest became. His touch was sure, his feet quick, his vision of the highest order. Only a goal could have bettered his introduction, and that almost came, spectacularly, deep in the second half, when he volleyed Ruud Gullit's cross into the side-netting. To appreciate the skill involved it should be pointed out that many decent players, presented with a ball at comparable angle and height, would have propelled it into row J or beyond.

"It was always my intention to play him from the start," Gullit said, dismissing the notion of a more gentle introduction. "It is important that he gets to know us and we get to know him as quickly as possible. There is no point in leaving him on the bench. And, as you can see, he is very fit and has no problems with the pace. He told me he enjoyed the game."

None the less, much as they controlled the second half after an uncertain start - one that prompted Gullit to reorganise from the touchline after 10 minutes - Chelsea might easily have lost. Indeed, the strike by Dan Petrescu that brought them level eight minutes from time owed its success to a deflection off Blackburn's Billy McKinlay, leaving Tim Flowers helpless.

Blackburn looked much better than a side struggling to escape from the bottom of the table and their decisive defeat of Liverpool two weeks ago has clearly given them renewed self-belief, reflecting well on their temporary coach Tony Parkes.

Twice in an even first half, Jason Wilcox left Petrescu in his wake to deliver dangerous low crosses that could easily have been converted and although the best opportunity of the period fell to Mark Hughes, set up by Gianluca Vialli, Blackburn could justly claim the upper hand.

Indeed, their positive approach was rewarded 10 minutes into the second half when Kevin Gallacher, off-balance, twisted himself to volley past the Norwegian goalkeeper Frode Grodas after Garry Flitcroft's chip had been helped on by Chris Sutton.

Gullit, having started on the bench, took the field for the final 30 minutes, and under his guidance Chelsea subjected Blackburn's goal to sustained attack. Zola was thwarted in the box by Henning Berg's last-ditch tackle and was then felled by McKinlay at the edge of the area. But at the other end, two saves by Grodas denied first McKinlay and then Gallacher in the home side's quest for a late winner.

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