In the end, it was tighter than many had predicted when Frank Lampard, returning hero, brought his Derby County team to Stamford Bridge on Halloween in the 4th round of the Carabao Cup.
He was given the expected ovation, regular chants and a general all-enveloping stadium hug, but his team – which famously knocked out Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United in the previous round – came a whisker away from forcing Chelsea to a penalty shoot-out after late drama which saw keeper Willy Caballero beaten, only for the ball to rebound off his post, neatly into his arms.
All five goals were scored in a crazy first half, with two of Chelsea’s goals being own-goal gifts from Derby defenders Fikayo Tomori (on loan from Chelsea) and captain Richard Keogh. Derby fans, occupying the entire Shed end at the Bridge, wittily chanted: “Shall we score a goal for you?” as the Blues seemed on course to complete the match without actually netting on their own.
Jack Marriott and Martyn Waghorn replied for the Rams, but Cesc Fabregas stole through the Derby defence to score what proved to be the winner four minutes before the break.
In the second half, Chelsea tried to contain Derby, with limited success. The pivotal moments of the second half came in the 68th minute, when Caballero somehow blocked a ferocious Marriott strike – sending the ball on to the roof of his net, and right at the death, a minute from the end of normal time, when sub David Nugent’s shot hit the inside of the post before fortuitously nestling in the keeper’s gloves.
Chelsea will next face Bournemouth at the Bridge a week before Christmas… although the pick of the quarter-finals of the dear old League Cup has to be Arsenal v Spurs.
Lampard’s return to the Bridge made the Chelsea v Derby encounter special. “I’m disappointed,” said Lamps afterwards. “I think we deserved a draw on chances created. The difference between the sides was they scored three… actually we scored four, didn’t we? I joke because I’m proud!
“I’m so thankful to the Chelsea fans. I left through the back door and it upset me at the time but I have nothing but great memories of this place and they thank me like that. I’m a lucky man to have a night like that and I feel it.”
Blues assistant manager Gianfranco Zola called it “a tough game”. He added: “Derby were excellent. They created us problems. Our defence wasn’t as good as other times, but most of the problems were created by them. We were lucky on occasions.”