Mikel's rare strike snuffs out threat of Chelsea slip-up
Derby County 0 Chelsea 2
In the competition that thrives on shocks, John Obi Mikel stunned his own fans, as well as Derby County's, with a rare goal to mark his 300th Chelsea appearance.
"He scores when he wants,'' chanted the jubilant 5,500 visiting supporters when they recovered from the sight of Mikel putting the ball into an opponent's net. He scores once every two seasons.
There was to be no magic of the FA Cup as the Rams succumbed to the class of the Premier League visitors, but there was surprise at Mikel's intervention.
The Nigeria international seemed inspired by taking the armband from the departing Michael Essien. Mikel led by example, rising strongly to meet Willian's free-kick and head the ball past Lee Grant as Chelsea took control midway through the second half.
Oscar, comfortably the man of the match, struck a superb second to guarantee Chelsea's progression to a fourth-round date with Mark Hughes' Stoke City at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea will hope this is an omen. The last time they faced Stoke in the FA Cup, they prevailed in the quarter-finals with goals from Frank Lampard and John Terry en route to the 2010 final, in which they beat Portsmouth.
Their journey towards another cup date with Stoke had a controversial moment -- another dive by a Chelsea player.
A week after Jose Mourinho expressed his disappointment with Oscar for his dive against Southampton's Kelvin Davis, another of his Brazilians took a tumble.
Ramires needlessly decided to check the laws of gravity by falling to earth in close proximity to the blameless Michael Keane.
Deceived by Ramires' dive when challenged by West Brom's Steven Reid on November 9, Andre Marriner was not going to be fooled again. No to a penalty. Yes to a yellow card.
Mourinho, whose old Porto Champions League winners were some of the worst exponents of diving, commented that he would talk to Ramires.
It was a pity that Ramires' subterfuge should distract from Chelsea's excellent second-half display.
For Championship Derby, this was a reminder of the class in the division to which they aspire -- Chelsea brought on £82m worth of substitutes in Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres.
Steve McClaren, who once masterminded a Middlesbrough victory over Mourinho's Chelsea, is building a promising side from a limited budget, particularly looking at loan signings like Keane, the Manchester United centre-half, and Liverpool's Andre Wisdom, who showed some good touches and anticipation at right-back.
Jeff Hendrick also made the most of the chance to show his worth in front of the watching Martin O'Neill, producing a series of surging runs from midfield.
Mourinho showed his respect for Derby and the competition by picking a reasonably strong side and Chelsea should have scored midway the first half. Mikel took the ball off Keane and sent Samuel Eto'o down the inside-left channel.
An attacker who has graced Champions League finals surprisingly hesitated and Wisdom covered back well to clear the danger.
Chelsea were coming more into the game, their Brazilians to the fore. Oscar and Willian linked well, requiring Jake Buxton to head clear a cross from Oscar.
The entertainment continued at half-time with the DJ playing 'Rat Trap' and 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais' before Chelsea re-emerged to 'Welcome to the Jungle'. They soon cut a swathe through the Derby defence and Ramires struck the bar.
Having replaced Essien, Hazard was beginning to make his mark, soon stopped illegally by Jamie Ward on Chelsea's left after 65 minutes. Willian whipped in the free-kick for Mikel (below) to easily head the ball past Grant.
Ramires then embarrassed himself with that dive before Oscar scored a gem after 71 minutes, striking the ball so hard, and with a touch of swerve, that Grant could only punch it into his net.
Torres, who replaced Eto'o, then dribbled through, bemusing Buxton with one turn. However, like the Chelsea fans coming off the M1, he ran into heavy traffic.
Derby's players left the pitch to warm applause as Mourinho walked across to shake hands with McClaren and say he hoped to come here again next season -- "in the Premier League, not the FA Cup". (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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