Di Matteo off to flying start as Chelsea dump out Birmingham
Birmingham City 0
A full match report of the FA Cup fifth-round replay between Birmingham City and Chelsea at St Andrew's on Tuesday Mar 6, 2012.
In pursuit: Jordon Mutch chases down Chelsea's Salomon Kalou Photo: PA By Jason Burt, at St Andrew's
10:00PM GMT 06 Mar 2012
There were messages off the pitch and on it for Chelsea as they earned a place in the last eight of the FA Cup with, in one of those cruel ironies, the goals being scored by André Villas-Boas’s two key signings.
Juan Mata celebrated his, Raul Meireles studiously did not his – and then pointedly marched off the pitch and down the tunnel at the final
whistle. For a match-winner, he looked furious. But then this was the first game since Villas-Boas was sacked and there was a maelstrom of emotions inside that Chelsea dressing room – ranging from the relief felt by those alienated from the young Portuguese to the frustration of those who supported him.
The 3,000 visiting Chelsea supporters had their say also. They chanted the name of the caretaker manager, Roberto Di Matteo, having failed to acknowledge Villas-Boas throughout his months in charge, but then the Italian has the instant respect of being a former player whose exploits in this competition are writ large.
They were not the only chants. Rafael Benítez was told, in no uncertain terms, he was not wanted as the next manager. Jose Mourinho, inevitably, was told he most definitely was while Roman Abramovich had a jovial endorsement in what should be a time of embarrassment for Chelsea.
“He sacks who he wants,” sang those fans. Indeed he does although there was a banner also that hopefully pricked a few consciences. It read: “Play for the shirt, not your egos” which now appears to be a kind of post-AVB slogan going forward.
Roy Keane, a television pundit here, delivered an even blunter verdict as he observed the Chelsea team warming up prior to kick-off. “They’ve let their manager down badly and they are carrying on like that in the warm-up, flicking each other’s ears... absolute disgrace,” he said. Villas-Boas has carried the can for that disgrace and it was the fear that Chelsea could not prevail against Birmingham that panicked the club into sacking him.
Di Matteo dedicated victory to the former manager but also reminded the Chelsea players of their duties. “They had to show it on the pitch tonight,” he said. “The responsibility towards the club, the supporters, our boss, to everybody. It’s for their own good as well. We are a happy family.”
He was doing well until that last statement. Happy family? That’s in dispute but the “boss”, i.e, Abramovich, will be happy with this result even if Di Matteo reminded everyone that there were bigger targets. Well, one. “For us, it’s final to finish fourth in the league,” he said. “That’s the target that we have. That’s what we have to do. If we can win a cup or two, that’s a bonus, but we don’t like where we are in the table, and it’ll be very tough to achieve what we want to achieve. But we have a duty to try.”
Duty; responsibility. They were significant words and resonated with Di Matteo claiming the players were “all onboard” for a selection for which Villas-Boas would have been vilified. No Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole nor Daniel Sturridge in the starting XI. Maybe some of those big beasts were being punished – maybe, as Di Matteo said, they were rotated. Either way it was a big call and there was even more arresting news with John Terry also on the bench less than 14 days into a rehabilitation for knee surgery that was supposed to last up to six weeks.
Chelsea now go forward to a quarter-final meeting, at home, to another Championship club in Leicester City and it was delivered in a patchy performance punctuated by yet another failure to score by Fernando Torres.
He played well after being, significantly, restored to the starting line-up but it is now 23 games and 1,431 minutes since a goal and he eschewed the chance to take a penalty, after earning it, refusing to accept Juan Mata’s offer. Instead his fellow Spaniard, as had done in the first meeting between these sides, saw his effort saved by goalkeeper Colin Doyle. Torres also woefully dragged a first-half shot wide, after rolling his marker Curtis Davies, and superbly teed up Sturridge who miskicked from point-blank range.
It is just not happening for him. But it was, marginally, better from Chelsea with Mata almost steadying nerves in the opening minutes when put clear by Torres, provider again, only to delay and shoot weakly, Chances were at a premium and it was Birmingham who then went close with Nikola Zigic stooping and twisting and forcing a fine tip-over by Petr Cech from his header. Cech also held on to Wade Elliott’s snap-shot.
For Chelsea, Ramires screwed a shot wide, Mata was halted close to goal by the superb Pablo Ibáñez and, then, they finally fashioned a breakthrough.
It came as Birmingham failed to clear and Ramires scampered down the right. He centred to the forgotten man, Salomon Kalou, whose efforts to shoot were twice blocked before the ball broke to Mata who stabbed his effort through a crowd of players and into the net.
Soon after and Mata should have claimed another, only to head Branislav Ivanovic’s cross wide from close range but Chelsea did claim a second goal. And it was some strike with Ramires laying the ball back to Meireles who hit a crisp, powerful right-footed drive from 25 yards.
Contest over? Yes. Except this admirable Birmingham side have reserves of resilience. Gary Cahill had to perform a fine last-ditch tackle to halt substitute Marlon King and Nathan Redmond drove narrowly over from distance. Birmingham spurned their best opportunity when Jordon Mutch was released only to slice wildly over before, finally, Cahill just beat Davies to a header at the far post and Cech beat out King’s shot.
The celebrations at the final whistle by some betrayed those emotions. But then it has been a torrid few days for Chelsea.
Birmingham (4-4-2): Doyle, Spector, Ibanez, Davies, N’Daw (King 72); Redmond, Mutch, Gomis, Elliott; Rooney (Burke 59), Zigic.
Subs: Myhill (gk), Valles, Packwood, Reilly, Jervis.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech, Bertrand, Cahill, Luiz, Ivanovic; Meireles, Mikel; Kalou (Sturridge 59), Mata (Essien 89), Ramires (Lampard 75); Torres.
Subs: Hilario (gk), Drogba, Lukaku, Sturridge, Terry.
Referee: A Taylor