Today was FA Cup Third Round day, a break from the Premiership for a weekend, which meant for some of our players who were involved in recent Christmas and New Year games they got some time off to relax and recuperate. Scunthorpe came to Stamford Bridge second in League Two, formally the old Third Division. In 1988 we played them in the League Cup only to lose to them 4-1 at Scunthorpe and in the second leg at home, we drew 2-2. Back then we were in the old Second Division, after that defeat we went on to win the Second Division championship with such players like Kerry Dixon, Kevin Wilson and Steve Clarke. Scunthorpe were out to emulate that team of 1988 today and for a time it looked like they may well do it.
Jose Mourinho gave starting debuts today to Nuno Morais and Steven Watt. Both players have featured for the reserves this season; Watt had also played in our pre-season friendly at Oxford when we drew 1-1. Nuno Morais started at left back in the absence of Wayne Bridge who is still recovering from flu and has only just re-started light training. Other changes to the team included, Carlo Cudicini for Petr Cech, Alexey Smertin filled in at center back as JT and William Gallas were rested, while Robert Huth and Ricardo Carvalho were still out injured. In midfield, Geremi started alongside Tiago and Joe Cole. Frank Lampard was suspended due to his fifth yellow card of the season up at Liverpool; up front both Duff and Robben were rested, although Arjen Robben was on the subs bench, so in came Mateja Kezman and Eidur Gudjohnsen along with Didier Drogba. Scunthorpe’s line-up included the old Everton and Stoke player, the 39-year-old Peter Beagrie.
With this being a cup game Scunthorpe were allowed to take the bottom tier of the Matthew Harding stand, something that riles a lot of Chelsea supporters as the Matthew Harding Lower is where the hardcore of Chelsea fans go to sing. If today proved to the club that the away fans might need to be moved from the Matthew Harding Lower, then nothing will change the mind of the club. Scunthorpe started the game as if they were the home team; we were very slow out of the blocks. Scunthorpe were passing the ball around and gained an early corner, their fans in the Matthew Harding Lower were celebrating that as if they’d already scored a goal. In the 7th minute they deservedly took the lead, a low ball into the Chelsea area found Sparrow who went around Smertin and shot low through Cudicini’s legs as the League Two side took the lead. Their players ran to their fans in celebration as the rest of Stamford Bridge sat opened mouthed because we’d conceded a goal, let alone a goal to a team who were 67 places below us. Old memories of 1988 came flooding back, that night at Stamford Bridge there were just over 5000 fans watching, today there were 40,000 and the thought of a possible humiliation wasn’t what the majority of the 40,000 had turned up to see.
Chelsea were finding it hard to settle as Scunthorpe nearly scored a second after 24 minutes. A corner, their third in front of their own fans came swinging in, Carlo saved a header only for the ball to fall to Rankine who turned and shot over the bar. If this wasn’t 2005 and we knew Chelsea were top of the Premiership then this could quite easily have been 1988. However, suddenly we woke up, we went up the other end and scored. Drogba knocked down a ball played by Eidur and Mateja Kezman rocketed a volley into the net. Suddenly dejection around me in the West Lower turned to jubilation as we equalised, it was Kezman’s third goal of the season. It seemed as though now it was a formality and we’d go on and get a few more, however the FA Cup through all its magical mystery almost turned against us again. A minute or so after we scored Carlo had to dive and turn away a flying header from Butler as the away fans turned up the volume again. Scunthorpe were punching decidedly above their weight and Chelsea although responding with an equaliser were rattled. As half time approached Didier Drogba had a shot after being played in by Eidur, he turned a defender and with deft touch curled the ball towards the Scunthorpe goal but Paul Musselwhite, who incidentally played in goal for Scunthorpe when they beat Chelsea in 1988 flung himself across goal and tipped the ball round the post for a corner.
At half time it remained 1-1, a score that I for one wouldn’t have predicted before the game. At the start of the second half we came out unchanged, again Scunthorpe started to show that they were a reasonably decent team. Then came our second, and some sighs of relief. Didier Drogba’s low cross was turned into the back of the net by Scunthorpe’s Crosby, it was a deserved goal as our second half display had been a lot brighter than the first half efforts. However, even at 2-1 Scunthorpe pressed for an equaliser, a cross from the right was misjudged by Carlo and from no more than three or four yards out Crosby the captain of Scunthorpe shot into the side netting. Before that with only Cudicini to beat Scunthorpe substitute Taylor shot wide. It was a little desperate for a while. Then came the best chance of the second half for the away team, a cross from Beagrie found Taylor whose header hit the post. With desperate times came desperate measures for Jose Mourinho, off came Kezman who looked like he’d picked up a knock and on came Arjen Robben to great elation from the home fans. Before Robben’s introduction, Jiri Jarosik had made his debut coming on for Didier Drogba in the 68th minute; he also got a great reception from the Chelsea fans after he’d signed from CSKA Moscow on Thursday.
With Robben on the pitch suddenly he was the catalyst for all things good, it was like someone had waved a magic wand, a long ball played through to him was taken down in one motion and he ran past two or three defenders before getting tackled. Then with five minutes to go it was game over and 3-1. Steven Watt played a ball of high quality to Arjen Robben, he shot from about 20 yards, the ball was saved then Joe Cole had a follow up shot again saved by the keeper, it was then Eidur Gudjohnsen’s turn from close range and he banged the ball into the roof of the net. This suddenly prompted quite a few Chelsea fans around me to get up and leave, I’ve no idea why people do this and it’s something I dislike. Just before full time Joe Cole, the sponsor’s man of the match today had an effort from 20 yards but Musselwhite saved. As the final whistle blew we were the ones in the hat for the fourth round draw, but it was a bit worrying for a little while, this was by no means a game we won easily.
All credit goes to Scunthorpe for putting up a magnificent performance today, their fans also made it a good day, they didn’t stop singing and were ecstatic when they went 0-1 up. I have to mention our own fans who at times today were a little quiet, people around me, including myself were trying to get the fans in the West Lower to sing, but without too much response. Maybe this is something we need to address in the fans forum, is it time to have designated singing areas at Stamford Bridge for the home fans, especially with cup games? At times today it felt like an away fixture, this atmosphere certainly couldn’t help the players. In the end 1988 was exorcised, we’re still fighting on four cup fronts and we’re in the FA Cup Fourth round, anyone fancy an away fixture? Or even how about an away fixture at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea: Cudicini, Johnson, Watt, Nuno Morais, Smertin, Cole, Tiago, Geremi (Ferreira 69), Gudjohnsen, Kezman (Robben 81) Drogba (Jarosik 68) Subs Not Used: Pidgley, Anthony Grant.
Scunthorpe: Musselwhite, Byrne, Crosby, Butler, Ridley, Sparrow, Baraclough, Kell, Beagrie (Williams 90), Hayes, Rankine (Taylor 68). Subs Not Used: Evans, Jackson, Parton.
Referee: Dermot Gallagher