x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Robinson's work is cut out

Blackburn's keeper must shut out free-scoring Chelsea with a place in the semi-final at stake..

Paul Robinson was never one to shy away from hard graft in the name of football. While growing up in East Yorkshire, he would sweep snow off the pitch at Boothferry Park in return for free tickets to watch his beloved Hull City. Tonight, Robinson's Blackburn Rovers side welcome Chelsea to Ewood Park with a place in the semi-final of the Carling Cup at stake, and the goalkeeper will need to be at his industrious best to keep out a team that have netted 16 goals in their past five league games - including, most recently, a 3-0 rout of title challengers Arsenal at the Emirates.

The omen, however, is not good for the former England No1: when the two sides met in October at Stamford Bridge, Rovers were humbled 5-0. On that afternoon, Sam Allardyce's side had put in a dogged, defensive first-half display inspired by an in-form Robinson. The 30-year-old was beaten once, by a Gael Givet own goal, but made several crucial saves in the first 45 minutes - most notably from a venomous, swerving strike from Didier Drogba.

Starting the second half trailing, Blackburn continued to invite Chelsea on to them and instantly paid the price. Frank Lampard smashed in a Drogba cross on 48 minutes before a rasping 35-yard Michael Essien effort four minutes later eluded the flailing Robinson by some distance. Lampard later sent Robinson the wrong way from the spot, before Drogba was allowed a free header after the former Tottenham stopper failed to deal with a corner.

Allardyce called his side's performance "pathetic" and "totally unacceptable", but will have limited influence over tonight's quarter-final tie as he is forced to remain at home having recently undergone minor heart surgery. Chelsea have yet to concede a goal in the competition, having beaten QPR 1-0 and Bolton 4-0, while Robinson, an ever-present in the Rovers team, has conceded 28 league goals this season - five more than bottom-placed Ports-mouth. Saturday's dour stalemate with Stoke was only his third clean sheet since August.

Rovers, however, are feeling confident in the cup having netted nine times in the competition - including a 5-2 whipping of Championship strugglers Peterborough United - and midfielder Brett Emerton is already dreaming of walking out at Wembley. "Everyone realises the importance of [tonight's] game," said the Australian. "If we can get a positive result, excitement will build and the players will start to believe we can win something. To get to Wembley would be something special. I've had a couple of semi-finals but you're in football to win things and hopefully this is our chance."

Rovers, who have failed to score against Chelsea in seven successive matches, will be without on-loan Argentine striker Franco di Santo who is ineligible to play against his parent club. The Lancashire club may also be missing the resurgent David Dunn as they look to extend their unbeaten run at Ewood Park to eight games. The English midfielder is awaiting results of a scan on his calf after straining it against Stoke at the weekend.

Chelsea, while apparently taking the competition seriously this season, may give 18-year-old Frenchman Gael Kakuta, the player at the centre of the London club's transfer controversy, his first start as Ancelotti looks to prioritise his side's trip to Eastlands on Saturday to face Manchester City. Ashley Cole should pass a late fitness test after hobbling off with a hamstring injury against Arsenal.

Robinson once dreamed of living in the East Yorkshire village of Stamford Bridge - a desire he realised while playing for Leeds United - but he is well aware if he goes to sleep tonight, the team from London's Stamford Bridge could engulf him in a nightmare. @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae