A full-strength Chelsea side battled to a hard-fought 2-0 victory against Scunthorpe United, as the Blues’ journey in the FA Cup starts with victory.
The League 1 side went 1-0 down early in the first half thanks to a Diego Costa toe-poke but any thought that Mark Robins’ side would be a walk over proved far from the truth as it was only until near the 70-minute mark before Ruben Loftus-Cheek secured the game with a very tidy finish.
It means the Blues progress into the fourth round of the competition which they have the most realistic chance of winning, but there is still a long way to go before Guus Hiddink can begin to imagine getting his hands on the cup for the second time.
With that in mind, it was easy, albeit still incredibly frustrating, to see why Hiddink opted to field a full-strength side. One reason Mourinho was fired was his stubbornness in not playing youth and whilst in the pre-match press conference, Hiddink outlined that there would be a chance for “a young player” now he had settled into his interim position since being appointed in December but that young player proved to only be regular starter Kurt Zouma. Other young talents like Kenedy, Loftus-Cheek and Traore, who would arguably be big success stories of the season at any other Premier League club, were made to wait.
But for all Chelsea’s starting strength, it was the rigour of Scunthorpe which shone through in the early stages in what looked like a typical cup tie where the favourite started with caution. Williams was allowed to get a shot in inside two minutes but that was blocked, but the goal in the 13th minute settled Chelsea down.
Ivanovic swung one of his better balls of the season in and Costa ran in front of his man to get the slightest of touch to divert the cross goalwards. It was a scrappy goal and may well have been an own goal but the home fans did not care one jot, and officially it becomes the first time Costa has scored in three consecutive games in over a year.
Fabregas had a long-range pile-driver tipped over the bar soon after as Chelsea settled into their professional rhythm, as did Pedro and Oscar try their luck, but it was looking laboured and the strength of Chelsea’s side should have comfortable saw out Scunthorpe.
The second goal was proving to be elusive for the remainder of the half and that invited Scunthorpe pressure, with van Veen and Dawson getting in quick efforts from a corner.
But the talent of Chelsea did shine through in the second half, and maybe the emerging talent of Chelsea also. Oscar was replaced at half-time and Ruben Loftus-Cheek was afforded 45 minutes in an attacking role having been used previously by Mourinho in a holding role, and it was the young Englishman who raced onto an Azpilicueta cut-back from the left to record his first ever Chelsea goal.
In truth it was an excellent goal by Loftus-Cheek, who timed and then held his run to perfection to wrap up a Lampard-esque finish but credit must also be given to Azpilicueta who covered half the length of the pitch to support the attack.
The life was sucked out of Scunthorpe soon after and that played into Chelsea’s hands. Williams and Bishop had the odd attempt for the visitors but Begovic was not meaningfully testing, and with the two-goal cushion, that allowed Hiddink to give Kenedy, and then Traore, some game-time.
The fourth round draw takes place on Monday and 48 hours later, Chelsea’s attentions turn back to rescuing their Premier League form with another home match against West Brom.
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Man of the Match
KURT ZOUMA: Physical presence and athleticism are arguably Zouma’s best attributes and that was put to the test today, with Zouma making a number of last-ditch tackles to spare the blushes of Cahill. The Frenchman is probably one of the first names on the team-sheet now and he was solid and quick to react, particularly when the scoreline placed the game still in balance. 7/10
Hiddink realised this was Chelsea’s best chance of silverware this season: “The Premier League is difficult to get the fourth place, but the other projects are the FA Cup and the Champions League. “It is a decent result against a very strong opponent, especially in their set-pieces. We started well, but we forgot to kill it off. We had high pressing, but we were a little bit arrogant in our finishing.”
Robins rued a penalty not awarded by Pawson when it was still only 1-0: “Chelsea made it very difficult for us and early on we gave the ball away too much but after that I thought we were good. It is a nailed-on penalty and you come to places like this and you want to get the decisions.”