MATCH REPORT: BLACKBURN ROVERS 3 CHELSEA 3 (4-3 PENS)
A tough encounter at Ewood Park ended Chelsea's hopes of Carling Cup success as Blackburn won on penalties.
Despite coming back from a one-goal deficit to take the lead, a 10-man Chelsea, minus injured Salomon Kalou, were unlucky to lose out as Blackburn beat us 4-3 in the eventual shoot-out.
Didier Drogba made an immense impact on the game as a half time substitute, scoring the equaliser before Kalou made it two, while Gael Kakuta and Jeffrey Bruma, also made their impressions felt. They too were half-time subs.
There were eight changes to the side which beat Arsenal. Paulo Ferreira started in central defence, alongside Branislav Ivanovic, as Carlo Ancelotti rotated his squad ahead of the Manchester City clash this weekend.
The line-up saw several changes to the team which thumped Blackburn 5-0 in October, that side boasted Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Nicolas Anelka and John Terry, all of whom were rested for tonight's fixture.
Going into the game, Chelsea possessed a 100 per cent win record against Rovers in the League Cup, the last time we met at Ewood Park in the competition ended 2-0 in our favour, with goals arriving from Cole and Kalou.
Keen to repeat the feat, it was Cole who produced Chelsea's first chance, connecting with a Malouda cross at the near post only for Paul Robinson to deflect for a corner.
But the game didn't continue in Chelsea's favour, as Ferreira was forced to trek back and deny Nikola Kalinic an opportunity on goal with eight minutes played.
Seconds later and Blackburn's number 22 had scored when Pascal Chimbonda beat Belletti, raced to the goal line and crossed for Kalinic to tap past Hilario from three yards out.
Chelsea were soon retaliating with Cole proving troublesome. First he broke into the area, only to be denied by the Blackburn defence, before he launched a dangerous through ball inches out of Kalou's reach.
Then Belletti came into attacking play, sending a cross to the far post in search of Kalou. Unfortunately the Ivorian was a second off the pace and, despite sliding towards the upright, missed his opportunity.
The best chance for an equaliser in the first half fell to Ballack, as Deco won the ball in midfield, fed Mikel, who in turn set up Malouda on the left flank. The Frenchman sent a cross over the six-yard box to a waiting and open captain who smashed a volley into the side netting.
The impact was immediate and within two minutes Drogba had scored the equaliser. Feeding off a Malouda ball, the Ivorian expertly placed his header back across Robinson into the left of the goal.
The confidence was back, Chelsea were playing full throttle and soon it was two to the visitors.
This time it was Kalou, who broke down the centre of the pitch after latching onto a Zhirkov pass. With the defence nowhere to be seen he calmly slotted the ball past Robinson, putting Chelsea ahead five minutes into the second half.
Then Kakuta nearly scored a diving header following a clever cross from Drogba before Malouda sent a shot skimming past the post.
But Blackburn would find the net next. An Emerton cross dipped towards the near post where Kalinic appeared to make the tiniest adjustment to the ball's path, heading beyond Ivanovic and Hilario's reach, 2-2 with 26 minutes of normal time left.
Replays revealed Kalinic to be a red-herring as the ball bypassed the forward on its way into the net. It was Emerton's goal.
Soon after that, Chelsea were down to 10 men as Kalou was forced off with injury, allowing Blackburn a one-man advantage as they hunted for their third.
But despite the deficit, Chelsea were still threatening as much as Blackburn, with Kakuta, Drogba and Ballack all creating chances for one another.
Extra time seemed inevitable, regardless of the fourth official signalling five minutes of stoppage time. It was a period of football that saw one Blackburn goal disallowed for offside and Hilario pull off a fantastic save to prevent another Kalinic chance.
So it was, with a stalemate reached, that the game went to extra time and a minute into the restart Blackburn won a penalty.
Zhirkov tangled with Hoilett right in front of goal, tripping the Blackburn striker in the process. Alan Wiley had no choice but to point to the spot, Benni McCarthy converted with ease.
Apart from the penalty, the first period of extra time was a fairly uneventful affair. A late challenge on Kalinic earned Bruma a yellow, while Drogba narrowly missed an opportunity on goal. Altogether it wasn't long until Chelsea had only 15 minutes to save the game.
And with only a minute left to play, Ferreira was the man to save the day. As Malouda launched a freekick goal-ward, Robinson punched it into the right-back's path.
Our number 19 made his shot count, hitting the back of the net from an awkward angle. Robinson could only watch as Ferreira netted his second Chelsea goal and rekindled our hopes in front of the travelling fans.
It was with nail-biting suspense the game arrived at penalties, so it seemed only right the suspense would continue throughout the shoot-out.
First McCarthy scored his second of the night then Ballack aimed for the corner but it was very well saved on to the post. Emerton scored his spot-kick, Drogba cancelled it out.
Vince Grella converted his penalty, as did Malouda, before Kalinic was saved by Hilario, it was three a piece.
Zhirkov's left-footed effort was only ever destined for the net, while Hoilett drove into the top left.
Then it was Kakuta's turn, the youngster's first taste of a penalty shoot-out. Robinson saved and Ancelotti's dream of winning his first piece of Chelsea silverware in February faded.
It's back to defending our reign at the top of the League for now, at least until Champions League football next week.
By Christian Collison
Chelsea (4-3-2-1): Hilario; Belletti (Bruma H-T), Ferreira, Ivanovic, Zhirkov; Mikel, Ballack, Malouda; Deco (Drogba H-T), J Cole (Kakuta H-T); Kalou.
Unused subs: Turnbull, Hutchinson, Matic, Borini.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Salgado, Samba, Nelsen (c), Chimbonda; Emerton, Nzonzi, McCarthy, Pedersen; Kalinic, Roberts (Hoilett 69).
Unused subs: Brown, Givet, Grella, Diouf, Van Heerden, Jones.
Watch the full game on Chelsea TV from midnight.