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Penalty furore overshadows off-field strife

The English FA cancelled the pre-match handshakes because of the maelstrom surrounding Anton Ferdinand and John Terry and, unfortunately, somewhere along the way the football appeared to have been cancelled also.

For an hour this was a spiky FA Cup fourth-round tie, a west London derby between bitter rivals with rancorous history, that somehow transformed itself into a turgid encounter of the most questionable quality.

Then there were two minutes in which the pulses raced and controversy reigned. QPR went close to scoring and then Chelsea took the lead through a penalty that simply should never have been given. And the tie then drifted to its end.

Chelsea will feel a sweet pang of revenge having lost the Premier League match between the two sides in October, by the same scoreline and through another penalty that they -- with less justification -- claimed should never have been awarded either.

There was then, of course, the eruption of investigation and allegation surrounding what Terry was accused of saying to Ferdinand with the case now imminently in the courts.

Yesterday Juan Mata's cross, after a strong run by Ramires, was aimed towards Daniel Sturridge. The striker fell to the turf, however with Clint Hill beside him and the QPR defender immediately remonstrated, accusing Sturridge of diving as he had also accused him of doing moments earlier.

To Hill's horror, referee Mike Dean judged differently. The penalty was awarded and Mata struck the ball unerringly into the net.

"Mike Dean will be very disappointed when he looks at that again," said QPR manager Mark Hughes, choosing his words with great care. "He said he had to give it because the lad [Sturridge] was going to head the ball." In truth, Mata's cross was sailing over Sturridge and, in any case, there did not appear to be a push.

Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas was having none of that and could not resist adding that the last time Chelsea were here they also had two men dismissed and did not garner sympathy. This victory meant much to him, not least because he is now ramping up the FA Cup as a competition which his team can win.

Returning from their training camp in Mallorca, and without the injured Frank Lampard, Villas-Boas fielded his strongest available side, although they lost Ramires with a medial ligament problem that could rule him out for a month. QPR needed a striker, especially with Heider Helguson again departing injured.

There was no menace yesterday, beyond the stands, and even much of that was pantomime stuff, and precious little from Chelsea either with Fernando Torres taking two steps backwards -- apart from a couple of clever runs -- after the progress made in recent weeks. In the first period, every reporter's notebook -- beyond the odd registering of chants about Terry's parentage -- was only added to when Mata's drive, after Luke Young slipped, was smartly beaten away by Paddy Kenny.

It really was that uneventful. Chelsea had control but could not kill the game. Crosses were over-hit, passes misplaced, runs went unread. Torres teed up Sturridge, after a fine dribble, but he blasted over and then, soon after, fell to the ground claiming a trip by Hill who was, not for the last time, furious with him. Then Shaun Wright-Phillips burst into the area and hit a cross-shot that Petr Cech beat out and Jamie Mackie waved a leg at, when he should have driven it back into the net, wasting a glorious opportunity.

Chelsea broke away -- and Sturridge 'won' the penalty. Could QPR reply? It never appeared likely. There wasn't the stomach from either club for a replay and the closest it came to being forced was deep into added time when the ball broke wide to Young, whose fierce half-volley was well-judged by Cech who pushed it away.

Terry and Ferdinand proved to be, probably, the game's best two performers.

Both defended immaculately with Terry unflappable -- as he can sometimes be in cases of adversity -- and Ferdinand imperious. They both, also, studiously avoided each other at the final whistle with Ferdinand completing a circuit of the pitch to thank the QPR supporters -- and Terry thumping his chest before the 3,000 visiting fans. He hugged Sturridge also, in congratulation, much to the fierce annoyance of the QPR contingent. That final whistle felt like a relief. For everyone.


Sunday Indo Sport