Chelsea took another step closer to defending their title as FA Cup winners, by knocking Premier League side Wigan out of the fourth round. Nicolas Anelka netted his first goal for Chelsea, whilst Wright-Phillips continued his rich vein of form by scoring his third goal in five matches. An Antoine Sibierski stunner was the consolation for the Latics.
Avram Grant’s side, decimated by injury and the African Cup of Nations, was unchanged and in truth, the Israeli didn’t have much choice. Pizarro was again the most attacking sub, joined by young winger Scott Sinclair, goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini and defenders Paulo Ferreira and Tal Ben-Haim.
Chelsea old boy Mario Melchiot skippered the home side, which also contained the infamous Titus Bramble in defence, the much maligned Michael Brown in midfield, and the infamous and maligned Emile Heskey in attack.
The pitch was in terrible shape and the first half of football reflected that. Both sides struggled to create quality openings, Joe Cole’s shot flying wide inside the first minute, after it bobbled off the turf.
Referee Uriah Rennie denied Anelka’s claims for a penalty in the 10th minute, when he went down under a challenge from Koumas and although contact was made, in truth it was more clumsy than malicious.
Towards the end of the first stanza, Joe Cole latched onto a knock down from Anelka, albeit 30 yards out, and his volley skidded wide after momentarily catching the attention of a wary Kirkland.
Six minutes into the second half, Carvalho executed a perfect sliding tackle on England forward Heskey, and yet, to the disbelief of every human being on the planet, he was given a yellow card by referee Rennie. However, even he couldn’t deny Chelsea the opening goal a minute later.
Belletti took the ball forward on the right hand side and as he looked up, spotted the run of Anelka. The timing of the pass was perfect and keeping an eye on the goalkeeper Kirkland who had come off his line, the French striker tucked the finish away with just one touch, giving Chelsea the advantage. Our new striker showed all his quality there, and is now off the mark.
Wigan looked to hit back and Čech had to be at his best to keep out a volley from Heskey at the near post, not long after Anelka’s goal. Just after the hour, the Chelsea bench was in uproar as Michael Brown elbowed skipper Makelélé in an off the ball incident, typically missed by Rennie. The fourth official remonstrated with Steve Clarke and Henk Ten Cate in attempts to settle them down, as Brown escaped unpunished.
With ten minutes to go, Paulo Ferreira showed previously unseen versatility, as he replaced Florent Malouda. The Portuguese fullback was deployed in central midfield, with Joe Cole switching to the left and Wright-Phillips moving wide.
Two minutes later, Chelsea wrapped up the match. Anelka beat Kilbane to the loose ball and racing clear, looked up to see Wright-Phillips waiting in the box. Unselfishly, he squared the ball to the waiting winger, who slotted the finish through the legs of Kirkland to make it 2-0.
With two minutes left, the Latics found a lifeline. A long ball forward was trapped by the substitute Sibierski, the Frenchman then turned and smashed an unstoppable volley past a flying Čech, ending his run of three games without conceding. It was a goal of true quality, and it needed to be to beat our brilliant and in form goalkeeper.
In stoppage time, Wigan nearly forced a replay. A long ball forward caught the Blues defence napping, and a sprightly Marcus Bent was first to it. The former Charlton forward snapped a shot at goal that beat Čech, but bounced off the top of the crossbar and out for a goalkick.
Despite that very late scare, Chelsea held on to advance to the FA Cup’s Fifth Round as we look to book a double trip to Wembley, having secured out spot in the Carling Cup Final in midweek. Chelsea just keep on winning, this being our 8th victory in a row and our 11th match unbeaten, the only aberration being the 4-4 draw with Aston Villa. Dare I say the word, quadruple?
Wigan (4-4-2): Kirkland; Melchiot, Bramble, Scharner, Kilbane; Valencia, Brown, Palacios (Sibierski 76), Taylor (Koumas 57); Bent, Heskey (Agahowa 84).
Unused subs Pollitt, Boyce.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Čech; Belletti, Alex, Carvalho, Bridge; Wright-Phillips, Sidwell, Makelélé (c); J Cole, Anelka (Pizarro 90+1), Malouda (Ferreira 79).
Unused subs Cudicini, Ben-Haim, Sinclair.
Referee Uriah Rennie