A draw leaves both sides sweating

 

ENGLISH FA PREMIERSHIP: Blackburn still face an anxious run-in to beat the drop after failing to stretch their run of successive Ewood Park victories against a Chelsea side again struggling to find a cure for their latest dose of away-day blues.

Graeme Souness' side should have made it four in a row at home, but were forced to settle for a draw which leaves them languishing in 17th in the Premiership, and just three points above the relegation zone.

The point, though, was good enough for Chelsea to see them leapfrog Newcastle back into the vital fourth place which carries with it Champions League football next term, although Newcastle have two matches in hand.

An air of mystery surrounds manager Claudio Ranieri's future with Chelsea for he is refusing to confirm he will be in charge beyond the summer. Chelsea chairman Ken Bates is adamant Ranieri is determined to see through the job he started 18 months ago, and he is not going to Barcelona, while cheekily suggesting Barcelona should appoint Arsenal's Arsene Wenger instead.

If Ranieri does decide to stay he will have to resolve the often thorny problem of Chelsea's away form as they have won just once on their travels in the top flight since the turn of the year. On this occasion they were indebted to goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.

In a thoroughly-entertaining encounter, Cudicini was helped by his post early on as Andy Cole - returning after a three-match ban for his stamp on Bolton's Mike Whitlow - struck the outside of the woodwork, albeit from an almost-impossibly acute angle.

But then the Italian superbly blocked a powerful Damien Duff drive, while later in the half he was at full stretch in pushing away a 15-yard shot with the outside of his right boot from Lucas Neill.

Duff was again denied by arguably the best save of the game early in the second half when the Republic of Ireland star struck an angled screamer from 12 yards, only for Cudicini to somehow keep out the shot.

Tugay was within a whisker of gaining sweet revenge after Cudicini had fisted clear a cracking cross from Neill. But in sending back a first-timer from 22 yards with his right foot, the ball was within inches of the right post.

But Rovers could not break through, although Chelsea were not without their chances, with Eidur Gudjohnsen having the first of the game after seven minutes. But the Iceland international, like Tugay, was within a whisker of scoring.

Brad Friedel was indebted to Stig Inge Bjornebye whipping the ball off the toes of Mario Stanic midway through the first half after Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's goal-line pull back had fizzed past the American and through the six-yard box to the far post.

It was a fumble by Friedel three minutes after the break which gave Chelsea their best opportunity as Gudjohnsen was onto the rebound following Hasselbaink's drive, but after a touch to cut inside Craig Short, he then scooped the ball over with his weaker right foot.

BLACKBURN: Friedel, Neill, Short, Berg, Bjornebye, Gillespie, Dunn, Tugay, Duff, Jansen, Cole. Subs Not Used: Flitcroft, Johansson, Yordi, Unsal, Kelly.

CHELSEA: Cudicini, Ferrer, Terry, Desailly, Melchiot, Stanic, Lampard, Petit, Zola, Gudjohnsen (Zenden 76), Hasselbaink. Subs Not Used: Jokanovic, Dalla Bona, Cole, de Goey.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).