Drogba has final say over jaded Villa
Published 11/04/2010 | 05:00
Aston Villa 0
Chelsea are still on course for a historic first double. An often soporific FA Cup semi-final ended with Carlo Ancelotti's team setting up a meeting with Tottenham or Portsmouth.
Villa's 7-1 drubbing at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago had begun with a Frank Lampard goal on 15 minutes so they will have been content to move beyond that stage of this game still level here. In fact Martin O'Neill's team might have taken the lead from two chances before the quarter-hour had passed.
James Milner was first up with a low, skidding effort that narrowly passed Petr Cech's right post. Then, Gabriel Agbonlahor appeared to be kneed to the turf inside the area by Mikel John Obi. Howard Webb stared for a moment then, to O'Neill's fury, turned that one down. If the referee had seen Agbonlahor clutching Mikel's jersey then he might have taken that into account.
Since that 7-1 defeat, much has been made by O'Neill and his players of John Terry's remarks that Villa tend to fade late on in games. It seemed fair comment from the Chelsea captain and there was a sense yesterday that Wembley's wide yards would once again test Villa's stamina.
But as the half-hour passed it had been Chelsea who, if not sluggish exactly, were certainly struggling, though this may have been merely the unfolding of precisely the pattern Terry had described, with Chelsea hoping to emerge stronger as the game grew older.
Yet when Stewart Downing took the ball down the left and flipped in a cross, Cech's misjudgment of its flight suggested that Chelsea had still not woken.
This was about to change. And Didier Drogba, not for the first time, was Chelsea's threat. With players beginning to slip on the notorious Wembley turf, Richard Dunne went down in his area when hoping to stop Drogba from pulling the trigger from Florent Malouda's cross. Fortunately for Dunne, Stephen Warnock managed to get a fine block in.
Moments later, Drogba performed a flip-and-collect over a Villa player's head that was playground stuff.
His side may have finished the half stronger, but Ancelotti was not content with how his players had, for large parts, been dominated by Villa. This caused the Italian to signal his displeasure by sending the team out early for the restart and telling three substitutes -- Nicolas Anelka, Michael Ballack and Salomon Kalou -- to spend the first 10 minutes of the second half warming up.
Yet they and their manager had to witness further spluttering fare from Chelsea, with the aimless ball from Joe Cole that went straight out for a goal-kick instead of on to Drogba's head emblematic of their performance.
By now this was established as a standard-issue cagey semi-final that felt as though it would be settled by the odd goal. It still, at this juncture, appeared that Villa might grab it. After 62 minutes Agbonlahor's driving run into Chelsea's area was followed by a shot that forced a save from Cech. But that meant another corner, and another non-event.
Ancelotti, wanting to force events, had seen enough. Off went Cole and on came Kalou but it was Drogba, yet again, who made the difference.
The scorer of the winner in the final of this competition three years ago, and in last year's semi-final win over Arsenal here, made the opportunity from which he would score again at Wembley. Drogba flashed down the left, causing James Collins to dive in, before his shot at Friedel went for a corner. Now it was the turn of Collins's defensive partner, Dunne, to commit the howler.
Malouda's delivery from the left landed plum on the Dubliner's head, but his weak clearance found a lurking Terry. The former England captain's response was a pass-shot hybrid that found an unmarked Drogba. From six yards out the striker was not going to miss. And he did not.
While Terry later appeared lucky to receive only a yellow card for clobbering Milner's knee, Mr Chelsea's analysis of Villa's tendency to fade had been proved correct. Late strikes from Malouda, meeting a precise Ballack cross, and Lampard, teed up in the area by Malouda and Anelka, provided the confirmation.