Mikel takes heart from Old Trafford fightback
JOHN Obi Mikel hopes the second-half fight back at Manchester United will prove the catalyst for Chelsea to finish a tumultuous season on a high.
The holders appeared likely to exit the FA Cup after going 2-0 down 11 minutes into the quarter-final at Old Trafford and many wondered if Rafael Benitez's spell in interim charge would come to a premature end as a result of a heavy defeat to an old rival.
But Chelsea responded with second-half goals from substitute Eden Hazard and Ramires to force a replay, while Mikel too was influential after coming off the bench.
"Let's hope this game will put us back on a good track and we keep going on from here to end the season very well," Mikel said.
"This result has come at a crucial time where we just have to start putting on good performances but the tie is not yet done.
"You can never write off Manchester United at any time. At Stamford Bridge we have to make sure we put this tie away."
During a topsy-turvy season, Chelsea have had moments where they thought they were over the worst, only to continue to stumble on.
Mikel saw glimpses of Chelsea's best at Old Trafford as the Blues bid to secure Champions League qualification and continue their pursuit of silverware in the FA Cup and Europa League.
"I hope we can keep this character and momentum going, but sometimes it's quite difficult when the season is going like this," he added.
"If you look at the team from last year, we liked to play, to attack, to move forward.
"We liked to have the ball, beat people and create chances and that's exactly what we did in the second half at United."
At Old Trafford, as he has been at Stamford Bridge since his November appointment, Benitez was the subject of torrents of vitriol due to his prior association with Liverpool.
Following the fifth-round win at Middlesbrough, the Spaniard urged the Blues support to turn their focus to backing the team, as he will leave at the end of the season.
Mikel repeated the call for a united front.
"Sometimes it doesn't help when the fans are not happy," the Nigeria midfielder added.
"I have been here for seven years and they [the supporters] are fantastic and have always supported us until the end. I hope that continues throughout the season.
"This is when we need them the most. Let's hope we can all go through the rest of the season together.
"Chelsea fans have always been great and I know they will continue to be great with the players."
Chelsea's attentions now turn to Thursday's Europa League last-16 second leg with Steaua Bucharest, with the Blues seeking to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit.
The FA Cup replay means the Blues will play a minimum of 64 matches this term, but the finale could be more congested with progress in the knockout competitions.
Right-back Cesar Azpilicueta told Chelsea TV: "We need to do the last effort.
"We have two months in front of us to win trophies. We need to stick together and hopefully we will win."
Azpilicueta is confident of a replay success over Sir Alex Ferguson's side.
He said. "We were controlling this game. We play at Stamford Bridge with our supporters. We have this feeling that we can win."
Chelsea's end-of-season bid was strengthened elsewhere yesterday when Tottenham lost at Liverpool.
It means the fourth-placed Blues, who have a game in-hand over Spurs, are two points behind their London rivals as they seek Champions League football next term.
Benitez hopes to see the characteristics his side demonstrated at Old Trafford in the remainder of the season in order to fulfil his brief.
"It's really important for the group, as a group," Benitez told Chelsea TV.
"You could see everybody working so hard, passion the commitment and also the quality. Hopefully it will be good for the rest of the season.
"If we see the character that we saw, we have a chance."