Hiddink leads Blues past Rovers
Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink finished his last game in charge at Stamford Bridge with a 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers and departed to the sound of fans calling for him to stay on as head coach. However, the impassioned pleas for the club to sign up the experienced Dutchman on a permanent basis were more in faint hope than genuine expectation.
Indeed, chairman Bruce Buck suggested in the matchday programme that a decision on a permanent successor was expected "sooner rather than later", with AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said to be the top target as he contemplates his own future after missing out on the Serie A title to city rivals Inter. Nevertheless, the way in which Chelsea - who won this afternoon with a goal in each half from Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka - have performed under the guidance of the Russia coach is a credit to their professionalism as much as Hiddink's tactics and management skills.
It is perhaps fitting that the farewell for the Dutchman, whose best efforts could just not get close enough to wrestle the title from Manchester United, yet came within moments of reaching the UEFA Champions League final, is to come in the FA Cup final on 30 May, when the Blues faithful will get to say their goodbyes at Wembley. By then, the new Chelsea manager is likely to have been announced as Buck aims to put the right man in place to secure "trophy after trophy next season and beyond" for Roman Abramovich's club.
Chelsea, who have a slim chance to catch Liverpool in runners-up spot, started brightly, and took the lead after just four minutes. Anelka escaped down the right, before whipping the ball back onto the penalty spot, where Malouda arrived on queue to crash a bullet header past Paul Robinson, into the corner.
Rovers had a chance to get quickly back on level terms, but captain Ryan Nelsen headed El-Hadji Diouf's right-wing cross over from six yards. After ten minutes, Anelka almost made it 2-0 when he touched Ashley Cole's cutback goalwards, but Robinson produced a fine reaction save.
Rovers are much improved under Sam Allardyce, who has guided them safely out of the relegation zone, and the visitors enjoyed a spell of possession. Frank Lampard made a timely block as Vince Grella sent a shot goalwards from the edge of the area. Chelsea then went up the other end, where all-action England midfielder Lampard struck the crossbar after being played in by Anelka.
Cole saw his scuffed effort saved, at the second time of asking, by Robinson in the 21st minute. Chelsea continued to press forward and Givet, from under his own crossbar, was alert to hack away Malouda's chip over the goalkeeper. Blackburn were forced into a change just before the break when skipper Nelsen limped off to be replaced by youngster Aaron Doran as the visitors reshuffled their line-up, moving makeshift striker Chris Samba back into defence.
Chelsea continued in determined mood following the restart and doubled their lead after 59 minutes. Cole's ball in was missed by Malouda, but Didier Drogba touched back for Anelka on the edge of the Blackburn penalty area.
The French striker needed no second invitation and drilled in his 18th league goal of the season, to draw level with United forward Cristiano Ronaldo, as chants of "Guus Hiddink, we want you to stay" rang out around Stamford Bridge. After the match, Hiddink said: "It was surprising to me to see such a reaction from everyone because I was only here a short period.
But I worked with a lot of joy with these players and also received a lot of support from the crowd," Hiddink said. "I'm very proud of the players. They responded to everything I asked of them."
Anelka almost made it 3-0 after 72 minutes, but dragged an angled shot just wide. Blackburn veteran Tugay, who is set to leave Ewood Park at the end of the season, had a swerving shot kept out by Petr Cech. Robinson produced a fine reaction save from Anelka at point-blank range during stoppage time before Chelsea and their departing coach all enjoyed a lap of appreciation after the final whistle.