Jose Mourinho is a stranger to defeat, as he reminded the public on Saturday by repeatedly referring to his four successive league titles while Chelsea celebrated their second championship at Stamford Bridge, but what he would give to lose his club's reputation as masters of the theatrical.
Some reputations, of course, are harder to shed than others. Blackburn Rovers have undergone such a transformation since Mark Hughes arrived at Ewood Park 19 months ago that not only has their image as the bruisers of the Premiership softened, but the relegation fears that confronted the former Wales manager in September 2004 were last night replaced by qualification for the Uefa Cup. His Chelsea counterpart, meanwhile, could only curse the perception that many of his own players have promoted but which cost them the chance to break their own Premiership points record.
The champions, trailing to Steven Reid's 43rd-minute header, were refused three clear second-half penalties by referee Steve Bennett as Blackburn held on to the three points that guaranteed sixth place and a return to Europe after a three-year absence. On each occasion, the Chelsea player involved maximised the effect of the opposing player's touch, but on each occasion an offence had been committed. Mourinho said: "Last season when Blackburn came to Stamford Bridge they were bottom of the league and now, 18 months later, they are in the Uefa Cup, and because they deserve to be in Europe I don't think they deserved to finish the job in this way. This was not a proper game of football. We had three penalties, we didn't get one. I can laugh now because we are champions. I am happy we didn't come here needing points for the championship otherwise this would be my last game in England. I'd be suspended forever."
Mourinho's complaints commenced once his makeshift side, improved by the half-time introduction of Damien Duff for the ineffective Asier Del Horno, rediscovered their usual rhythm in the second half to force Blackburn on the defensive for the first time. In the 62nd minute, a clumsy challenge from Lucas Neill felled Shaun Wright-Phillips, then Zurab Khizanishvili left a flailing leg in the path of Frank Lampard and, most blatantly, substitute Aaron Mokoena pulled Hernan Crespo to the floor. The Chelsea manager, however, would not entertain the idea that doubt had been placed in the mind of Bennett by previous over-elaboration from his men.
Moruinho said: "People all around the world watch this league and it has a lot of prestige but decisions like this are not good. I have positive feelings about English referees, they are human who can make mistakes, but I think they look at Chelsea through different eyes."
Sven Goran Eriksson must have watched this game from behind his fingers once he discovered that Mourinho had not rested Frank Lampard. In a side fielding eight changes to the defeat of Manchester United, disruption was inevitable and allowed Blackburn, with their pace down the flanks, to dominate the first half.
David Bentley had wasted a glorious chance to head Hughes' side in front in the 27th minute when Craig Bellamy diverted Michael Gray's cross on to the crossbar and the rebound dropped perfectly for the unmarked Blackburn midfielder. From just four yards out, however, he managed to steer his effort wide of Carlo Cudicini's far post.
The reprieve for Bentley arrived two minutes before the interval when Geremi handled, and Robbie Savage swung the subsequent free-kick over the heads of a crowded penalty area and into the far corner. Savage, not surprisingly, claimed the goal, although his delivery took the slightest of touches off the head of Reid.
The second half was all about good fortune for Blackburn, and when Bennett ended the proceedings Ewood erupted in euphoria. There were no medals thrown into the stands but Hughes had good reason to replicate Mourinho's title winning celebrations at the Bridge. "This was a huge effort and to beat great champions on our home turf is a great achievement," he added. The final word, of course, belonged to his opposite number. When told of the rumour that his Premiership medal was selling on eBay for £10m, Mourinho said: "If that was true I would sell last year's medal."
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Reid (Mokoena, 73), Khizanishvili, Neill, Gray; Bentley, Savage, Tugay (Peter, 85), Pedersen; Sinama-Pongolle (Kuqi, 85), Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Dickov.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cudicini; Geremi (C Cole, 77), Gallas, Carvalho, Del Horno (Duff, h-t); Maniche, Diarra, Lampard; Wright-Phillips (J Cole, 64), Crespo, Gudjohnsen. Substitutes not used: Pidgeley (gk), Johnson.
Referee: S.Bennett (Kent).Reuse content