Frank Lampard revised his old role as Chelsea's match-winner, as Andre Villas-Boas's side rode their luck in a 1-0 victory away to Blackburn.
Familiar face rides to Chelsea's rescue
BLACKBURN // There was a time when a 1-0 win for Chelsea was barely even noteworthy. It seemed their default scoreline, the sort of result they could churn out on autopilot.
Not any more. But by revisiting their past, they extricated themselves from the most difficult period of Andre Villas-Boas's reign.
After suffering back-to-back league defeats, respite was provided by the reliable Frank Lampard, whose winner halted the slump. Queens Park Rangers and Arsenal have still damaged Chelsea's season, but reports of their demise, not for the first time, are looking a little premature.
This was the Chelsea of old, winning efficiently but with few flourishes. The flair Villas-Boas hopes to add was largely absent, but this was not an occasion for aesthetic appeal."It was important to win, no matter what," he said.
It was all about the result and the clean sheet. After a seismic shock to the system, in the shape of the 5-3 loss to Arsenal, a shutout was necessary.
It was also fortunate. Steve Kean has often deemed his side unfortunate in his unsuccessful reign. Here, his grievances were valid. "We certainly had some chances," he said. "We're disappointed we didn't get anything."
Blackburn were the more threatening side, fashioning more clear-cut chances and given cause to regret their lack of a high-class striker.
Admittedly, Fernando Torres, who meets that description, was guilty of a glaring miss at the other end, but profligacy cost Rovers rather more.
Yakubu was the principal culprit, shooting wide in the ninth minute after Junior Hoilett and Mauro Formica had combined to unlock the Chelsea defence. Given a second clear-cut opportunity, he was denied by Petr Cech.
The goalkeeper also repelled a vicious free kick from Morten Gamst Pedersen and the rebound, scuffed rather than struck, by Grant Hanley. Then a corner, whipped in with trademark accuracy by Pedersen, was headed against his own bar by Branislav Ivanovic.
The right-back Ivanovic played a pivotal part at either end. One of those culpable against Arsenal, he was moved from the centre of defence but illustrated his attacking abilities by setting up Lampard's sixth goal in eight games.
The Serb's cross was brilliantly struck with the outside of his right foot, curling viciously towards Lampard, who stooped to head.
"It was a good goal," Villas-Boas said. "Frank has found his timing to arrive in the box like the old days and the cross from Ivanovic is inch perfect. We managed to get the first goal which was important in terms of emotional stimulus."
Apart from another Lampard effort and the injury-time shot Torres ballooned over the bar, it was an isolated threat. Blackburn were the busier in attack.
"My players gave it everything," Kean said. Their backing for the manager was evident. The supporters, however, are more divided. They circumnavigated the ban on banners by flying a plane over Ewood Park carrying the message "Steve Kean Out".
The Scot claimed he did not see it, although the plane circled Ewood Park for much of the first half. Truth be told, their grounds for protest lie in his overall record rather than recent displays. With three wins in the last 25 Premier League games, their slump has included the majority of 2011.
Results may not have improved, but performances seem to at least.
"I don't think you can continue to play like that without going on a very, very strong run," Kean added. "We are confident we can climb the table."
They need to. But both sides are in search of a winning formula.
Villas-Boas's boldness was apparent when the teamsheets were handed in and Torres was benched. He was summoned after a soporific first half, with Daniel Sturridge sent back to the right flank. But this was not a day for the Chelsea of the future.
It was all too fitting therefore that the winner came from a familiar face as Lampard reprised his old role as match-winner.