Chelsea call off their own strike action

Chelsea 0 Blackburn Rovers 0
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The Independent Online

The strike might have been averted, but not, apparently, the work to rule. Because this was all about expanding extraordinary little incident to fill 90 minutes. Triumph for either team would have hoisted them into the top six, but this was as uninspirational an encounter as it possible to envisage. A dearth of enterprise by Chelsea accompanied by some of the most dismal finishing left the home spectators berating their team at the final whistle.

It perhaps puts into perspective the over-hyped quality of the Premiership that despite only winning one of their last six League games, Chelsea are still only three points adrift of the leaders Liverpool, who play today. Although they have the League's second-best defensive record, the Blues failed to score for the second successive game. It leaves them with a goal tally of 16 goals from 13 matches and it left the defender John Terry conceding: "With all respect to Blackburn, we've got to start winning against sides like this if we want to challenge for the title. The fans have every right to their opinion and they showed us after the game how they felt."

The travelling fraternity at least had something to cheer them on the journey home; yet, in truth this was a contest they could have won. Victory for Rovers, the 1995 Premiership champions, would have taken them to 21 points, level with Manchester United. But for all the verve of the England pretenders Matt Jansen and David Dunn, the visitors lacked the conviction that they were actually capable of claiming a winner.

However, you could understand manager Graeme Souness's approach when he declared: "We're new to this League and we're not going to come to places like this and chase the game and make it easy for them. We weathered the storm and hoped to nick something at the other end. It worked very well. We limited them to very little, considering the quality of player they have."

The sum of Chelsea's component parts suggests a team who should be on terms with the League leaders; indeed as their chairman Ken Bates says, when he is not lambasting Gordon (Scargill) Taylor, if they hadn't thrown away points they'd be four clear.

The irascible Bates' time might be better occupied questioning how forwards with the finishing prowess of Gianfranco Zola and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink are failing so frequently, and spectacularly so, in the case of the latter, in the first half.

In the event, it was Souness's team who, despite defending resolutely, looked the more likely to break the stalemate in a turgid first half. In the first couple of minutes, Jansen was allowed to penetrate deep into the home defence before eventually being hustled out of it, although he claimed in vain for a penalty against Rovers old boy Graeme Le Saux.

Rovers's style and confidence initially promised much and when Keith Gillespie found Alan Mahon stealing ahead of the Chelsea rearguard it required some alert goalkeeping from Carlo Cudicini, in for the injured Mark Bosnich, to thwart him, at the expense of a corner. It was then Gillespie himself who whipped a fierce shot across goal but wide of post.

The contest was enlivened as the break approached, but not in the manner that the Blues' faithful might have hoped. Hasselbaink, at last finding space on the left, played the ball inside to Emmanuel Petit for the Frenchman to unleash a goal-bound attempt. When the ball rebounded off a defender the Dutchman contrived to strike possibly the worst shot since his return to England, skewing the ball towards the opposite touchline.

As if to demonstrate that he had even worse examples in his repertoire, Hasselbaink's next attempt was even further adrift. It was like watching a golfer struggle desperately with his driving. In between, Zola had a chance from distance but drove straight at Brad Friedel.

Establishing continuity has never been one of Claudio Ranieri's strongest suits and it was no great surprise, particularly given the dearth of attacking progress, that he decided that Eidur Gudjohnsen and Sam Dalla Bona should replace Zola and Boudewijn Zenden after the interval.

It improved matters, but not to a significant degree. Hasselbaink's beautifully weighted ball through to Gudjohnsen fashioned what appeared to be an ideal opening for the Icelander, but Friedel raced from his line to intervene. But then it was back to the same old failings in front of goal. Mario Stanic's tame shot after he was set up by Hasselbaink and Petit was typical of the poor striking quality on view.

The replacement of Damien Duff by Mark Hughes served to galvanise Rovers after they had looked prepared to settle for a point. From a free-kick just outside the area, the increasingly prominent Dunn crashed a venomous shot just wide. Then Stanic brought the best out of Friedel, although his attempt was probably drifting wide.

In reply, Chelsea were woeful. The closest they came to a goal after that was when an excellent tackle by Craig Short frustrated Hasselbaink as the striker was poised to shoot. On both that occasion and when Henning Berg wrestled with the Dutchman as they competed in the area there were claims for a penalty from the fans, but but more in frustration than real expectation.

Probably the best moment from either side was when Jansen teed the ball up for himself cleverly, but his volley struck the back of Mario Melchiot. It was that kind of day. Best forgotten.

Chelsea 0 Blackburn Rovers 0

Attendance: 37,978

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