Chelsea 3 Blackburn Rovers 0: Chelsea keep on United's tail but Cole injury causes concern

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The Independent Football

They still have Manchester United within their sights, but on the night the transfer window closed the Chelsea manager's depleted squad are yet another man down. The crowd in Stamford Bridge winced at Ashley Cole's bizarre self-inflicted second-half tumble and the player himself was left fearing the very worst.

The injury no one dared mention in the aftermath was damage to the cruciate ligament although that will be the worst-case scenario for Cole, who was taken off on a stretcher in distress. Jose Mourinho said that only today would he know the extent of the damage.

There were unpleasant similarities with the moment Michael Owen's cruciate ligament gave way at the World Cup last summer. When Cole chased the ball over to the left touchline there was not a Blackburn player within five metres of him. The full-back slowed down to take the ball in his stride when his left boot caught in the turf and the pressure from his momentum was transferred up his left leg. On first glance it was a clumsy, comical fall; on the replays it looked deadly serious. The England international's leg flexed unnaturally, bowed outwards and, as he fell, the pain was already etched across his face.

"He's not OK," Mourinho said. "It could be the cross ligament, the internal ligament, the patella, I don't know. He can't walk. It is serious." The transfer window closed little more than three hours after Cole was carried off, prompting an unusual summary from Mourinho. He compared his reduced injury-ridden squad to a blanket that was too small to cover the bed. "Pull it up and your feet get cold, pull it down and your body is cold," he explained. The point was that he does not have enough players but at least, he added pointedly, "my blanket is cashmere".

Cole will be out of England's friendly against Spain on Wednesday although Wayne Bridge is, for club and country, an adequate replacement. The mystery over John Terry's recovery goes on, Mourinho said yesterday that he was now not sure whether the England captain will play against Charlton on Saturday and that throws into doubt the likelihood of him playing against Spain next week.

That was the drama on a night in which Chelsea also showed that when the heat was on from Liverpool in third place they could still take the pressure, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Salomon Kalou settled the game in a familiar style. As a guest in the stands, the television actor Dirk Benedict of Celebrity Big Brother and A-Team fame would surely have concluded that Chelsea love it when a plan comes together.

Behind to Drogba's goal after six minutes, Blackburn put up a credible fight but, Mark Hughes pointed out, when Chelsea looked in danger Lampard's exquisite 16th goal of the season rescued them. And Mourinho lavished unprecedented praise on Andrei Shevchenko - "absolutely brilliant" - who he said had his best game yet for Chelsea.

There was certainly a warm welcome for the £31m man when he wandered to the bench, a hug between manager and player that elicited a roar of approval from Stamford Bridge. For those who watched another characteristic set of Shevchenko misses, however, it was difficult to see just what the improvement was. Hughes said that Blackburn had at least come with the intention of trying to break down Chelsea although they ultimately paid for it. The Blackburn manager was less than pleased with the referee Graham Poll, who he said "had one of his normal games" - in a manner that was by no means intended to be a compliment.

Poll did get the big decision right, a penalty appeal for Stephen Warnock. Warnock had gone on a remarkable run, past Ricardo Carvalho, Lassana Diarra and Cole before he was floored by Michael Essien's sliding tackle. One minute later Matt Derbyshire ran on to Essien's misplaced header and beat Petr Cech but his shot lacked power. Poll has not refereed a Chelsea match since he oversaw their controversial defeat at White Hart Lane in November and they have not forgotten at Stamford Bridge. Now there is another Premiership stadium that sings an unrepeatable song about him.

It was Ballack, however, who drew the fiercest criticism from the home crowd. The midfielder still floats in and out of games, he can make it look effortless and, less positively, he can also make it look like he is expending no effort whatsoever. It was Franz Beckenbauer who said this week that Ballack has been outshone this season by Lampard and Chelsea's goal after six minutes was a perfect example of how. Lampard flicked a ball with the outside of his foot which Drogba ran on to round the outside of Stephane Henchoz and slotted into the far corner of Friedel's goal.

Mourinho scowled theatrically at a lame Shevchenko attempt after the hour when Drogba's flick put him in on Friedel's goal. On 67 minutes, Chelsea swept up the pitch, Diarra finding Ballack who gave it to Lampard. He switched the ball left to John Obi Mikel, carried on his run and, when he got the ball back, dispatched a dipping 25-yard shot past Friedel.

Kalou had replaced Shevchenko and, in injury time, scored the kind of goal the Ukrainian had been attempting all match - a simple finish from Ballack's flick-on. No last-minute transfer deals for Mourinho now. "The supermarket," he said, "is closed."

Goal: Drogba (6) 1-0; Lampard (67) 2-0; Kalou (90) 3-0.

Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Diarra, Essien, Carvalho, A Cole (Bridge, 55); Makelele; Mikel (Ferreira, 87), Ballack, Lampard; Drogba, Shevchenko (Kalou, 84). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Wright-Phillips.

Blackburn Rovers (4-1-3-2): Friedel; Emerton, Henchoz (Samba, 79), Nelsen, Warnock; Tugay; Bentley, Gallagher (Nonda, 62), Pedersen; McCarthy, Derbyshire (Jeffers, 79). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Mokoena.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Blackburn Samba.

Man of the match: Lampard.

Attendance: 38,000.

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