Ivanovic inspires as Chelsea turn corner

Chelsea 2 Blackburn Rovers 0: Blackburn caught napping at set-pieces as champions grind out victory
  • @stevetongue

It was a win, though still not as Chelsea supporters know it; or indeed expect. Last weekend's 7-0 romp against Ipswich in the FA Cup had revived memories of more carefree days earlier in the season but this was back to hard grind. That made it similar to the victory against Bolton two weeks ago, the only one in nine previous League games.

The points earned by goals from Branislav Ivanovic and Nicolas Anelka following corners in the second half carried the champions above Tottenham into fourth place, remaining in some sort of contact with Manchester United before that pair meet at White Hart Lane this afternoon. At least both cannot win. Finishing above Spurs to secure a vitally important place in the Champions' League would appear to be a more realistic target than retaining the Premier League title.

Naturally Carlo Ancelotti could or would not admit that. "It's not easy to close the gap in the Premier League but we have to think we can do it," the Chelsea manager said.

Blackburn's manager, Steve Kean, a Portuguese speaker who almost joined Chelsea as a coach under Luiz Felipe Scolari, had seen his team defend stoutly for almost an hour before submitting. "We're disappointed because we're normally very good at defensive set-plays," he said.

Blackburn proved fallible at two of the umpteen corner-kicks Chelsea won. In the 57th minute, John Terry was allowed too much room to head on Florent Malouda's flag-kick, and when Morten Gamst Pedersen failed to clear, Ivanovic drove it past Paul Robinson from an acute angle.

Blackburn might have claimed – though Kean to his credit did not – that Malouda should not have been on the pitch after the sort of double-footed challenge 10 minutes earlier that has recently cost other players a red card. It was another left-wing corner from the French winger that brought the second goal, and relief all round Stamford Bridge, with 14 minutes to play. The powerful Ivanovic reached this one first and his header might even have crept in had Anelka not made certain with a deft touch from close range.

Chelsea, to be fair, dominated the second half. At the interval the visitors had thrown on Roque Santa Cruz, welcomed back from Manchester City complaining he had been offered far too little playing time. But the effect of that, unfortunately, was that he looked rusty.

Blackburn made their best chance without him, after half an hour's play. David Hoilett drifted through the centre, easily avoided Terry and forced a fine save from Petr Cech, Terry recovering to block the follow-up. They packed the midfield but suffered from losing the influential David Dunn midway through the first half with a hamstring strain, offering a first opportunity to Jason Lowe, an England Under-19 squad member who had made his Rovers debut in the FA Cup last weekend.

Ryan Nelsen and Gaël Givet did particularly well in defence, although twice in that opening half the crossbar saved their team. In only the second minute Ramires cracked a shot against the bar from some 20 yards. Just before the interval Didier Drogbawhipped over a cross and the ball came back off the angle of post and bar.

There has been talk of both principal strikers being left out recently. They each looked sharper yesterday and combined well after half an hour when Anelka played his partner in – albeit looking suspiciously offside – only to be denied by a fine saving tackle from Givet.

The day before the game Ancelottihad not discouraged speculation that Drogba and Michael Essien could be dropped. His insisted afterwards, however: "We needed more size because I knew Blackburn could use the big ball and set-pieces. So Essien and Drogba started the game."

Of his team's fluctuating form, he added: "I think our bad moment is over. Our [form] is better and now we have to play better again."

Attendance: 40,846

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Man of the match: Ivanovic

Match rating: 6/10