Chelsea kept their FA Cup hopes alive coming from a goal down to secure a 1-1 draw with Birmingham City in the 5th Round yesterday afternoon. Daniel Sturridge’s well-placed header, his first strike since before Christmas, cancelled out David Murphy’s 19th minute opener. The teams will meet again on the 6th March at St Andrews to determine who will go through to the Quarter Finals.
Under-fire manager Andre Villas-Boas named a strong starting eleven which included a start for Gary Cahill at the heart of the Chelsea defence and a spot at left-back for Ryan Bertrand, deputising for the injured Ashley Cole. Elsewhere Ramires returned from three games out to bolster the midfield. The front three which had started the last five games kept their places.
The opening twenty minutes was a quiet affair but the game burst into life midway through the half. First a Birmingham corner was awfully defended allowing Murphy to fire past Petr Cech and give the visitors the lead, before Ramires was upended in the box by the flailing leg of Wade Elliot. With Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba on the bench it was left to Juan Mata to continue penalty-taking duties following his success at QPR in the previous round but the Spaniard couldn’t keep up his record of scoring in every round as he saw his shot tipped onto the post by Colin Doyle. It wasn’t a bad penalty but the Irishman did very well to prevent Chelsea getting back on level terms immediately.
Chelsea showed few signs of breaking down a stubborn Brum defence for the remainder of the half, restricted to a dipping David Luiz free-kick which the Portuguese had brilliantly won himself, and a volley from Sturridge which flashed wide. Prodigy Nathan Redmond had the visitors’ only other opportunity but his shot was far too close to Cech. Boos rang around the Bridge as the players went in for half time.
Villas-Boas injected some much-needed life into his Chelsea side with the introduction of Drogba for the anonymous Torres. A change in formation before the interval to 4-2-3-1 was beginning to really have a positive effect now with the Blues looking increasingly dangerous going forward and they did draw level on the hour. Ramires did well to make space in the midfield before finding Mata, who picked out the roaming Branislav Ivanovic wide out right. His cross was perfect and found Sturridge six yards out who guided his header inside the post – the relief both on and off the pitch was palpable.
Chelsea had thirty minutes to find a winner and avoid a replay but they never truly picked up any momentum from the goal and barely threatened Doyle again. Substitute Salomon Kalou headed over from a Drogba cross before Raul Meireles’s goalbound shot was blocked by a flurry of yellow shirts and deflected over. There was much probing of the Birmingham backline but few sparks of creativity to breach it. Indeed it was the Blues of Birmingham that had the best opportunity to win the tie, but after Redmond was set free he could only shoot straight at Cech, much to the chagrin of the 3,000 travelling fans, who brought some atmosphere to a sterile Stamford Bridge.
So a draw seemed a fair result and at no stage did you feel Chelsea had done enough to deserve to win the game. The second-half display showed some improvement, aided by the presence of the returning Drogba, but Villas-Boas will have his work cut out getting anything from the game in Naples on Tuesday night if his side continue to play at his level – one which, at the moment, represents a decent Championship outfit and not a team challenging for the Champions League. At least the Blues are in the hat for the next round and might have stumbled into some form by the time they visit St Andrews in early March.