Not a sniff of a goal for nine hours now as Derby sink ever deeper into the relegation ooze, but at least there was a scalp for them to celebrate here with the straight red card dismissal in added time of Chelsea's substitute Michael Essien for a hand into the face of Kenny Miller. The Essien incident marred an otherwise comfortable evening's stroll for Chelsea, who closed the gap on Manchester United while still fielding a side with an eye on their Champions' League trip to Rosenborg in Wednesday.
The midfielder will not miss the trip to Norway but is suspended for the next three Premier League games as a result of a completely unnecessary foul with the game as good as over.
For Derby's manager, Billy Davies, the situation is even more dire. There were rumours before this game that he had two more matches to save his job and afterwards, calling for major investment in new blood in the January window, he admitted, "The team we have at the moment is not good enough to stay in the League. They have done a magnificent job but they need to see players walking through the door with the special technique needed to play at this level."
The record to date hardly qualifies as "magnificent": one win, six points and just five goals from 14 matches this season. Derby rarely looked capable of improving on those dismal statistics, though Davies insisted that a Miller chip in the second half, greeted by a raised offside flag, was in fact a genuine goal, perhaps the sort of ill-luck which dogs teams in these straits.
Avram Grant, presiding over his 12th game without defeat since stepping into Jose Mourinho's shoes, denied he was stamping his personality on the team. "I just wanted to do my job from the first day, and it was not easy," he said.
But he was as close to indignant as it is possible for this quietly spoken Israeli to get when he complained: "I won't say anything to Essien. We are an easy target for red cards." It was their third this season.
While not as humiliating as the five-goal hammering by West Ham in their last home game, Derby rarely showed any vestige of decent combination. A three-pass move was a rarity and Chelsea needed less than a quarter of an hour to suss out that this would be one of their easier outings. At that point they scored, having – not by any means for the first time – pene-trated Derby's porous central defence with a simply delivered ball down the middle.
Steve Sidwell, making one of his rare starts, was the provider and Salomon Kalou supplied the sidefooted finish. Chelsea made light of the booing that greeted every touch by Frank Lampard and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who had been on the Wembley pitch last Wednesday, and John Terry and Ashley Cole, who had not. Grant had advised his players beforehand to "put it behind you", adding:, "What happened for them on Wednesday was some kind of tragedy, but they know life goes on."
In their lollipop-man fluorescent yellow strip, Chelsea were clearly content that if boos were the worst part of this game they could handle it comfortably, as they did.
Terry, having missed seven games with knee trouble, was back to captain the side with customary authority and Carlo Cudicini, standing in for the injured Petr Cech, did not have a shot to handle in the first half.
A few Davies verbals at the interval clearly pepped Derby for the second half, when they should have been at least two goals behind. Kalou, benefiting when Claude Davis misheaded a Wright-Phillips cross on to his boots, shovelled a miserable effort over the top and Stephen Bywater made one excellent save from Wright-Phillips.
For a while, a very short while, it seemed a price might be paid for those misses as Craig Fagan brought a low save from Cudicini at his near post before Miller's "offside" chip, but any Chelsea nerves were settled in the 72 minute by a second goal which Derby hotly disputed.
Andriy Shevchenko, in his one notable contribution to the match, brought down Giles Barnes from behind just outside the centre circle, and with the Derby man lying injured Chelsea surged forward, Lampard struck a post and Wright-Phillips buried the rebound.Reuse content