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Frank Lampard makes his point to Andre Villas-Boas

Frank Lampard admitted he is always desperate to play as he made a goalscoring return to the Chelsea starting line-up for last night's 1-1 draw in Valencia in the Champions League.

The England midfielder had been on the bench for three of the previous four matches, with last night's recall appearing further proof he is now being held back for the big games.

Lampard scored what appeared to be a trademark winner that would have put the visitors in complete command of Group E, but was off the pitch when Valencia levelled.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas brought Lampard off for Salomon Kalou with seven minutes remaining, and the new man immediately conceded a penalty which Roberto Soldado converted.

Lampard said: "I always want to play, that's a given. I've been like that throughout my career.

"I love playing for this club. I am very proud of playing here.

"I've had knocks before in my career - it makes me worker harder to come back."

Of last night's game he added: "The second half had really opened up.

"Qualification games in the group stage can be slightly bland at times but this was more exciting.

"You have to find a middle ground of protecting your lead and playing attractive stuff.

"From our point of view it was a good performance, although disappointing to lose that lead."

Villas-Boas' recall of Lampard was totally vindicated - but the Chelsea chief's decision to substitute him backfired spectacularly.

Villas-Boas had been forced into an impassioned defence of Lampard as speculation about the midfielder's future dominated the build-up to the game, which saw Chelsea back at the Mastella stadium where they had won on their two previous visits.

Despite being mobbed at the airport, there was no sell-out crowd to greet the returning Juan Mata last night, with Chelsea not the only club struggling to fill their ground for Champions League group games this season.

The home fans did their best to create an intimidating atmosphere but they were almost silenced inside three minutes when captain David Albelda presented the ball to Fernando Torres, who was bundled over in the box by Adil Rami but strangely elected not to appeal.

Victor Ruiz nearly put the ball in his own net two minutes later as Chelsea assumed complete command.

Valencia finally began to look like the side that had caused Barcelona so many problems in their last home game and went close in the 25th minute when Pablo Hernandez sent Jordi Alba's cross into the sidenetting.

The game exploded into life in the 51st minute.

Alves produced three stunning saves in two minutes, first when one-on-one with Ramires, then from point-blank range from Torres and also when Ruiz diverted a corner towards his own net.

But he was statuesque as Chelsea finally took the lead in the 56th minute, Lampard drilling home his first of the season from open play from 20 yards after being picked out by Malouda.

Lampard barely celebrated but was mobbed by his team-mates.

Chelsea introduced Nicolas Anelka for Torres and Malouda could have killed the contest when he shot tamely at Alves after a well-crafted break.

Lampard left left the field to a standing ovation from the travelling fans - one which was reciprocated - as Kalou came on for the final seven minutes.

It proved a disastrous decision as the substitute inexplicably handled in the box.

Referee Nicola Rizzoli had no hesitation pointing to the spot and booking the new man before Soldado stroked the penalty beyond Petr Cech with just three minutes remaining.

But there was still time for Anelka to waste a glorious chance to win it for Chelsea in the final minute as Alves once again came out on top in a one-on-one clash.

The game finished with a flurry of yellow cards, as Villas-Boas stepped in to calm down his frustrated stars.

Belfast Telegraph


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