Drogba terrorises Cardiff to inspire Chelsea stroll
CARDIFF CITY 1
Not so long ago, Didier Drogba was the cartoon villain of Stamford Bridge. For anyone not of a Chelsea persuasion, the Ivory Coast striker's penchant for theatrics, for moaning, for sulking, made him difficult to warm to.
Now, certainly in the context of some of his less wholesome team-mates, he is nothing but admirable. On the pitch, Drogba continues to deliver performances which defenders simply cannot contain. He was imperious here, scoring one, assisting two, and causing Cardiff an incurable headache.
He gave Chelsea the perfect start. It took only one minute and 53 seconds, as Drogba advanced beyond a startled Cardiff defence to latch on to John Obi Mikel's ball over the top. Without breaking stride, he lashed a volley beyond David Marshall. Drogba's 23rd goal of the season equalled Wayne Rooney's total in all competitions. Some race that is turning out to be.
Cardiff looked fraught at the back, soon getting in a muddle when faced with an aimless cross, and Drogba was granted space to measure an overhead kick. But manager Dave Jones did not have to be a tactical genius to recognise a way back was always possible via Chelsea's weak spot -- the high ball -- and Anthony Gerrard and Michael Chopra both had chances with headers.
What felt suspiciously like a routine home cup win for the Premier League favourites tilted dramatically on its axis in the 33rd minute. Chris Burke jinked inside Yuri Zhirkov and delivered an arcing cross into the heart of the penalty area. Alex was caught daydreaming, for he stopped inexplicably, allowing Chopra the freedom to glance the equaliser past Henrique Hilario. Frankly, the Brazilian defender may as well have been in Dubai for all the influence he had on the goal. It was no less than Cardiff deserved for a gutsy recovery from a dispiriting start.
Chelsea were able to call upon two internationals to cover for the absences of John Terry and Ashley Cole, but it will not have gone unnoticed that the two understudies were caught for the goal.
On Terry's part, he took a few moments before jetting off to thank the fans for their support in his programme notes, before holding his hands up about his part in the defeat at Everton. "On a personal note, both Everton goals were my fault. I'm big enough to take responsibility for that."
Taking responsibility for one's actions would not appear to be his specialist subject. Those queasy tabloid photographs of him canoodling on a family holiday by the swimming pool in Dubai might not have been exactly what Carlo Ancelotti had in mind when he gave his captain compassionate leave on FA Cup weekend, but the result came to ensure he got away with it.
Chelsea recovered their lead five minutes into the second half. Salomon Kalou replaced the ineffectual Joe Cole at half-time, and made an impression with a lay-off to Drogba, who hooked a superb ball which bypassed the Cardiff defence. Michael Ballack flicked past Marshall with steady composure.
The Drogba threat set up the third, as three Cardiff players were drawn towards the Chelsea hitman, the ball ricocheted to Daniel Sturridge, who was on hand to poke in his fourth FA Cup goal of the season. Then Kalou gave the scoreline some gloss with a fabulous header from Paulo Ferreira's whipped cross.
Drogba went on a mazy run late on and got his legs tangled. He tumbled to the floor, but there was not the slightest hint of an appeal or complaint. He really is the man of virtue for Chelsea.
"It was tougher than we thought," admitted assistant manager Ray Wilkins afterwards. "We anticipated having a hard game. Cardiff played exceptionally well and gave us a lot of problems in the first half.
"But thankfully we managed to up the tempo in the second half and it became a tad easier for us. Our team was changed but we took quality out and quality came back in. It is the professionalism of our players that shines through."