Blackburn Rovers 0 Chelsea 2: Cole back with a bang to ignite damp Chelsea

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The Independent Online

When he considers the disastrous England performances he has missed, Joe Cole may not be so disappointed that his season did not start in earnest until last night. He escaped a red card for thrusting a hand into David Bentley's face and was accused of handling the ball in the build-up to his goal: it seems that his luck has changed.

Making his first start of the season, the England midfielder has endured a long recovery from a knee injury sustained in the club's summer tour of America, via a brief comeback against Werder Bremen last month. And last night he played in a Chelsea team whose line-up suggested they fully intend to win the Carling Cup this season - they will face Aston Villa in the last 16.

No Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba or Ricardo Carvalho but they were still on the bench and just Andrei Shevchenko was spared the trip to Lancashire. For Michael Ballack, who was in the team to play in front of a sparse 14,732 crowd, these were not the kind of nights he would have dreamt of when he took his pick of Europe's biggest clubs this summer.

Wind and rain meant sweat and toil for the Premiership champions as they overcame a club who have given them some stern tests at Ewood Park in the past. Mark Hughes' team were not quite as formidable as they have proved against Chelsea before although the Blackburn manager had some serious complaints about the referee, Phil Dowd.

In beginning the move that led to his goal, Joe Cole had, Hughes said, handled the ball. "We tried to highlight it to the linesman and the referee but they obviously didn't see it," Hughes said. "From that point onwards we were trying to get back our shape and unfortunately the ball ended up in the back of the net."

The disputed handball notwithstanding, it was a beautifully crafted goal. Cole sent the ball out right to Kalou who had played as a lone striker, he left Stéphane Henchoz standing - pushing the ball past him and sprinting after it - before crossing. Cole's momentum spun him round at the point of impact and he clipped the ball into goal with his heel.

On the clash with Bentley, which began with Cole stooping to pick the ball up, Hughes was more guarded. He posed the theory "if a Blackburn player raises his hands it's a sending-off, with a Chelsea player it's obviously different."

He may not rest the star names in his squad for the Carling Cup, but the Chelsea manager himself took the evening off from speaking to the Press: his assistant, Steve Clarke, said that it would have "disgraceful" had Cole been sent off. Clarke added that the strength of Chelsea's team showed their determination to win the competition. "If we wanted to get knocked out," he said, "we would have put out a reserve team." Although, given Chelsea's reserves, that would not have been guaranteed.

Shabani Nonda was taken off on a stretcher and Jay McEveley was given a torrid time by Arjen Robben. With 10 minutes left, Michael Essien pushed the ball through to substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips, whose shot Brad Friedel pushed out, but the ball went only as far as Kalou who rolled it into an empty net.

This was a different kind of Chelsea team to the one that Mourinho has favoured this season. When he arrived in the directors' box 20 minutes late, Roman Abramovich will have noticed that his manager had gone back to the four-man midfield with wingers supporting a lone front man - and in the early stages Joe Cole and Robben made for an exciting attacking force.

"We are playing very good football - to say we are not on top form is maybe taking away from the team's performances," Clarke said. It seems to matter little when Chelsea are winning.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Khizanishvili, Henchoz, McEveley; Emerton, Bentley, Mokoena, Pedersen (Peter, 46); Nonda (Roberts, 59), McCarthy (Jeffers, 86). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Todd.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Hilario; Geremi, Terry, Boulahrouz, A Cole; Makelele; J Cole (Wright-Phillips, 80), Ballack (Lampard, 61), Essien, Robben (Drogba, 83); Kalou Substitutes not used: Ma-Makalamby (gk), Carvalho.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

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