Chelsea 3.v.0 Rovers
31st January 2007. 19:45
It was a case of London again, defeat again. Rovers have now played Chelsea three times this season without scoring, losing all three in the process.
Rovers began the game in an aggressive manner but soon found themselves behind. Didier Drogba broke clear of Stephane Henchoz in the fifth minute before stroking an effort past Brad Friedel and into the far corner.
Rovers looked to retaliate but struggled to find any rhythm on Hackney Marshes. Poor first touches and casual passing presented Chelsea with a lot of the ball. They could have doubled their lead inside the opening quarter of an hour.
A smart back heel from Ashley Cole released Michael Ballack down the right. His whipped ball into the near post was met by the onrushing Andriy Shevchenko who stabbed an effort towards goal. He was denied by an exceptional reflex save from Friedel.
Still Rovers struggled to create any chances and constantly looked out of shape with confusion over where Paul Gallagher was meant to be playing. He constantly appeared in the centre but in an advanced role and Benni McCarthy was drifting further and further to the right.
Rovers finally burst into life on 27 minutes when Stephen Warnock surged forward and sliced through a static Chelsea defence. He averted three challenges after a smart one-two with Morten Gamst Pedersen but with the goal gaping he was denied by a wonderfully timed tackle by Michael Essien. Essien`s lunge meant Warnock could not get his shot off or feed Matt Derbyshire.
Derbyshire was making a nuisance of himself and almost caught the Chelsea defence out moments after Warnocks splicing surge. A poor header back to goal was seized on by Derbyshire who touched the ball around the advancing Petr Cech only to see it casually hooked off the line by Ricahrdo Carvalho.
Chelsea responded with a nicely worked move. An excellent first time ball by Lampard found Drogba on the edge of the area who chested the ball down before lashing a shot at goal.
Friedel ensured he had his body in the way but the ball squirmed away from him. Thankfully Nelsen was on hand to launch the ball into the stand before any scavenges could swoop.
The half drew to a close with Rovers on top and Chelsea cynically thwarting them with late and reckless lunges on Gallagher, Gamst and Warnock.
The half-time whistle blew in an evenly balanced game that Chelsea led courtesy of Drogba`s early strike.
Chelsea flew out of the traps at the start of the second half putting Rovers` defence to the sword with a number of efforts on goal.
Many argue that Andriy Shevchenko cannot hit a barn door at the moment but one thing he can hit is Brad Friedel. The Ukrainian had a number of decent opportunities early in the second half but was denied by the giant American on every occasion.
Friedel also pulled off another excellent reaction save from a bullet diving header from the ineffectual Ballack. The German 'superstar` was more often than not overwhelmed and outplayed by Tugay, but he in turn was outshone by Lampard.
The second half ebbed and flowed and could have gone either way. However, Rovers couldn`t generate any chances of note and any inkling of an opening was quickly snuffed out by the energetic and disciplined Essien.
Around the hour mark Ashley Cole was taken off on a stretcher after it appeared that he damaged his knee whilst trying to keep the ball in play.
Shabani Nonda replaced the ineffectual Gallagher but it still wasn`t clear what formation Rovers were playing. One thing was for sure there were gaping holes appearing in the middle of the park and with Frank Lampard`s influence increasing it was only a matter of time until he let fly from distance.
He duly obliged in the 67th minute when fed by Jon Obi Mikel. Lampard took one touch control and with all the space and time thumped a shot over Friedel and into the net to effectively end the tie.
Rovers cut forlorn figures on the Sunday League pitch and failed to materialise a fightback.
A number of free-kicks and corners were hopefully pumped into the Chelsea area but to no avail.
A third completed the win for Chelsea in injury time. Saloman Kalou loves playing against Rovers as he beat the offside trap to slot the ball past Friedel.
Stephen Warnock was again impressive. He gets forward well and links up with Gamst brilliantly. He also showed his more defensive capabilities as well with a number of well timed interceptions and some handy marking.
Paul Gallagher again looked too light-weight as he failed to impose himself in any way. Part of this was down to Hughes` questionable tactics.
It would appear Hughes deployed a three man attack but it inevitably left Rovers exposed in the centre. Bentley and Tugay worked hard but could not compensate for the extra man.
He was exceptional throughout. Gave Rovers attacking and defensive options. Lucas who!