Eight months had passed since Joe Cole last played for Chelsea, but on his comeback last night he learnt that some things never change. Even in the Carling Cup, Carlo Ancelotti had to rely on the big guns to see Chelsea through.
The Italian might have thought that he could pick any XI from his mighty 29-man squad to dispose of their west London neighbours from the Championship but he was wrong. The fringe players were not good enough and by the end of the game Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and John Terry were all on the pitch to steer Chelsea through to the fourth round of the competition.
Joe Cole could at least reflect on a sweet through ball to Salomon Kalou for the winning goal. It was a vintage Cole pass, of a quality that Chelsea showed too rarely. But it was not until Lampard came on at half-time that Chelsea found the fluency to win the match.
Cole, who ruptured cruciate ligaments against Southend in the FA Cup in January, was captain for the night. "I'm just delighted to be back here," he said. "Everyone at the club has been blinding. I want to be part of a successful season. It was an emotional night for me. I can't thank the fans enough.
"There was a little lump in my throat just warming up against Porto the other night," Cole added. "You think people have forgotten you so to come out there and hear them singing my name, it's just brilliant. Chelsea are my club. It's the first time I've been captain. That was a nice touch. To captain Chelsea is just unbelievable. I was a ballboy here. I know it was the Carling Cup, but tonight was one of the biggest games of my career.
"I know it's a stepping stone for me, it's not 'Joe's back' and I'm going to be how I've been immediately. I don't want people to think that. You have to get the knee used to all the movement and all the twisting and turning which is a big part of my game. If I am back to my best on Saturday, or next week or next month we will have to see."
Unlike Arsène Wenger at Arsenal, Ancelotti does not have a team of brilliant academy players to play in the Carling Cup, although given the money his sporting director Frank Arnesen has spent, he really should. Instead, Chelsea have an enormous first-team squad who have to play at some point. For the likes of Paulo Ferreira and Juliano Belletti this is about as good as it gets.
"Look at the size of our squad," said Ancelotti's assistant, Ray Wilkins, "we have a lot of guys who don't play week in, week out. They need to play and beyond that it is up to the young men to push themselves forward."
Of the estimated £62m that Arnesen has, in his wisdom, spent on teenage players for Chelsea's academy, the only one on show last night was Fabio Borini, a promising 19-year-old signed from Bologna. Sam Hutchinson, 20, who started at centre-back, comes from Slough and does not count as an Arnesen prodigy. For the youngsters in the Chelsea academy it must feel like a long way to the first team.
Jim Magilton's side were magnificently defiant in the face of such an expensively acquired second string, with £18m Yuri Zhirkov at left-back. But the Rangers manager admitted that his side did not create enough goalscoring chances. "We did not have the belief in the final third to take a risk and win the game," he said.
Joe Cole picked out Kalou on the left wing who cut in on his right foot to beat the goalkeeper Tom Heaton in the 52nd minute. Cole might have scored himself on 85 minutes but Heaton did well to save. Chelsea clearly want to win this trophy again, but it may have to be their first team which does it.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Hilario; Ferreira, Hutchinson (Terry, 77), Ivanovic, Zhirkov (A Cole, 69); Mikel; Belletti, Kalou, J Cole, Malouda (Lampard, h-t); Borini. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Essien, Matic, Bruma.
Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): Heaton; Leigertwood, Stewart, Gorkss, Borrowdale; Routledge, Rowlands (Ephraim, 73), Faurlin, Buzsaky; Simpson (Pellicori, 73), Vine (Taarabt, 63). Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Ramage, Mahon, Agyemang.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies