Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chelsea cruise into FA cup finals ( Aston Villa 0 - 3 Chelsea)


Holders Chelsea moved a step closer to the club's first Double by seeing off a stubborn Aston Villa side to reach the FA Cup final for the second successive year.
In a game largely ruined by the latest incarnation of the much-maligned Wembley pitch, Didier Drogba broke the deadlock midway through the second half before late goals by Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard made the scoreline look more emphatic than was deserved.
Villa responded to losing 7-1 to the Premier League leaders a fortnight earlier with a performance of industry and desire and their manager Martin O'Neill will also believe his side should have had a first-half penalty when Jon Mikel Obi clumsily felled Gabriel Agbonlahor inside the area.
O'Neill was hoping for his first FA Cup final in 40 years as a player and manager but instead it will be Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti, in his first season in the English game, who will lead his side out against Tottenham or Portsmouth on 22 May.
Hopefully, that game will take place on a different surface after the Wembley pitch, which was re-laid for the 10th time after England's win over Egypt in last month's friendly, again proved hopelessly inadequate for a showpiece match.
Players from both sides struggled to stay on their feet in the opening stages and it seemed to particularly affect Chelsea, whose usual fluid style was nowhere to be seen in the first half hour, save for an individual effort by Joe Cole that saw him cut in from the left and fire narrowly wide.
As well as the turf, Villa were also doing their best to stop the Blues from hitting their stride by working hard to limit any space for Lampard in midfield and chasing back when Cole or Malouda tried to attack down the wings.
O'Neill's men were also growing in confidence coming forward and, after 15 minutes, they threatened for the first time when the industrious James Milner was unlucky to see his low shot skid inches wide.
That was the cue for a spell of concerted Villa pressure but it was Chelsea's turn to show resilience at the back, admittedly assisted by referee Howard Webb.
To most observers at Wembley, it looked a stonewall spot-kick when Agbonlahor turned Obi in the box before being bundled over but Webb, despite being perfectly placed, waved play on.
It was the second major decision to go against Villa at Wembley this season, following the incident in their Carling Cup final defeat at the hands of Manchester United that saw Nemanja Vidic avoid a red card when he conceded a penalty - and understandably O'Neill reacted furiously on the touchline after being denied again.
But, on the pitch, his players kept their focus and Chelsea were lucky to escape again when Petr Cech missed Stewart Downing's cross and only a flick from Terry diverted the ball out of John Carew's path at the far post.
The Blues did improve before the break and it took a brave block by Stephen Warnock to deny Drogba when he met Florent Malouda's pull-back from the left.

Defeat is hard to take - O'Neill

But, aside from a Cole snap-shot on the turn on the stroke of half-time, Ancelotti's men looked blunt going forward and were a shadow of the side that had plundered 14 goals in their three preious matches.
The chances had dried up for Villa too, however, and although Carew headed wide from Downing's corner in the first minute of the second-half, the game degenerated into a midfield scrap that was badly in need of a goal.
The breakthrough duly came after 67 minutes, with Drogba - as he has been so many times this season - in the right place at the right time to find the net.
Richard Dunne did brilliantly to deny the big Ivory Coast striker when he skipped inside James Collins and made for goal, but did rather less well from the resulting corner.
Dunne's headed clearance only reached John Terry on the edge of the area, and his first-time shot was turned in by Drogba, who was lurking inside the six-yard box.
That was not quite the end for Villa, who continued to come forward, but the balls they were hoisting into the box were laced more with hope than any real menace.
They might have had more hope had Webb chosen to send Terry off for his dreadful challenge on his England team-mate Milner, but the official decided a yellow card would suffice.
Instead, with O'Neill committing more and more men forward, Chelsea were left to exploit the gaps left at the back - which they did in ruthless fashion in the closing minutes.
Malouda rounded off a fine passing move with a sweet back-post finish to make it 2-0 and Lampard practically walked the ball into the net when he met substitute Nicolas Anelka's pass from another swift breakaway.

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