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Ramires in top form as Blues flatter to deceive

MUCH of this contest was about a recent FA Cup finalist struggling to recapture former glories. But, for now, enough about Chelsea.

Defeat by a four-goal margin was harsh on Portsmouth who, just 19 months ago, contested and lost that Wembley final with Chelsea.

Pompey, now in the Championship, have suffered a series of much harder knocks in the intervening period as they lurched from crisis to crisis and they are still locked in uncertainty as to what lies ahead and who will be the eventual owner.

"I was told we'd have a new owner in the next 48 to 72 hours, but I told the players to take that with a pinch of salt," said Portsmouth's bright young manager Michael Appleton afterwards as he rightly praised his team's efforts.

Chelsea, and their own bright young manager, Andre Villas-Boas, don't have such financial concerns.

But there was plenty to ponder for much of an afternoon as they struggled to gain control of a tie they should have easily dominated.

In the end, for the gloss on the result, they were indebted to another powerful performance from Ramires, who has quickly developed into Chelsea's most important midfielder and one of the most dynamic runners in the Premier League.

Chelsea paid respect to the competition by fielding a full-strength side.

In truth, it was also an acknowledgement that anything short of victory, earning a fourth-round tie against either Queens Park Rangers or MK Dons -- John Terry possibly face-to-face with Anton Ferdinand just days before that race court case -- was unthinkable given the volatility around Chelsea and the hand-to-mouth existence surrounding the need to acquire some more positive results. Even in victory, however, there were concerns.

The first half was an exhibition of precisely the problems that Villas-Boas was brought to Chelsea to solve. Even with Juan Mata, Raul Meireles and Ramires all on the pitch, Chelsea still lapsed into some of the ponderous, one-paced football that Villas-Boas was meant to cleanse from Stamford Bridge.

Defensively Chelsea again looked vulnerable and were indebted to an extraordinary goal-line clearance from Terry, who jarred an already sore knee in the process, as he headed away Joel Ward's goal-bound effort in a passage of play that also involved two fine saves, a one-on-one and an instant reaction, from Petr Cech.

If Portsmouth had equalised then it could have been a very difficult closing period of the match, with Appleton rightly observing he detected growing "nervousness" among his team's opponents.

There was also another blank for Fernando Torres -- not that he played badly -- and the longer this scoring drought goes, the greater the anxiety will rise around him also, although the striker's support play is not gaining the credit it deserves.

Frank Lampard scored, however, and will believe he made another point to Villas-Boas -- but his contribution wasn't dominant.

Portsmouth arrived just 45 minutes before kick-off, but if their preparations were hasty, it didn't show.

Within the first minute Dave Kitson should have provided the lead, running onto a flick from the imposing, impressive Marko Futacs, between the central defenders only to drag his shot across goal.

Then Portsmouth goalkeeper Stephen Henderson turned away Torres' flying header and it appeared an enthralling contest would unfold.

It didn't. The half petered out. It was turgid, uninspired, but then, soon after the restart and with Kitson appealing for an Ashley Cole hand-ball, Florent Malouda quickly worked his way to the byline, cut the ball back and Mata swept it into the net from close range.

"It was just a matter of scoring the first goal and we were confident we could do that," said Chelsea's assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo afterwards.

If only it were that simple. If Cech -- and Terry -- had not made that triple save after David Luiz lost possession to Kitson then it could have been very different and Chelsea, in truth, continued to struggle to impose themselves.

At 85 minutes, indeed, it was still just 1-0. Would Chelsea, once more, succumb to a late goal? This time they capitalised on Portsmouth fatigue to claim a flurry of their own, with Ramires starting and ending an attack, playing a pass to Lampard, onto Mata, and then latching onto Torres' header to poke the ball into the net.

Then he powered through the centre of the pitch to flick a Torres pass beyond Henderson for the pick of the game's goals.

Finally, in injury-time, Lampard was picked out by Oriol Romeu and completed the scoring with a snap-shot. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent