Chelsea, FA Cup winners. Has a nice ring to it, no? Maybe it’s because we are getting so familiar with that phrase. The Blues won their fifth FA Cup on Saturday with a 2-1 win over Everton and, despite an early scare, it never even looked in doubt.
Louis Saha rocked Wembley with the fastest ever FA Cup final goal after just 26 seconds, but Chelsea hit back, just as they did in the semi-final win over Arsenal, with Didier Drogba levelling the score in the first-half and the club’s player of the season Frank Lampard belting in an emphatic winner mid-way through the second period.
For Guus Hiddink, it represented a job well done. The Dutchman returns to Russia with his reputation enhanced and a heck of a lot of fans forever in his debt after this success, one of many on his impressive CV.
Hiddink had established a favoured starting XI since taking the reins at Chelsea and there were no real shock inclusions in the Wembley line-up. John Obi Mikel was selected ahead of Michael Ballack who was left to brood on the bench for most of the game, but the spine of the side remained the same. Everton were without Phil Jagielka, so solid over the season, with Joseph Yobo lining up alongside Joleon Lescott at the heart of the Toffees defence.
With the sun beating down on the vastly improved Wembley pitch, referee Howard Webb got the game underway. It wasn’t long before the ball was back on the centre spot.
Everton went at Chelsea from the start, and worked the ball to the left where an offside-looking Steven Pienaar teased the Blues defence. The giant Marouane Fellaini was able to nod the ball down in the box into the path of a swivelling Saha. The Frenchman executed a perfect finish to send the ball past Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal. It had taken just seconds for David Moyes’ side to scythe through Chelsea’s defence.
Shell-shocked. But Chelsea galvanised and quickly began to stamp their authority on the game. As the possession counter swung firmly in the Blues’ direction, Everton retreated and stifled Hiddink’s side. Although they may have had a lot of the ball, they weren’t exactly doing a lot with it.
The lively Florent Malouda brought Everton right-back Tony Hibbert a yellow card as he attempted to kick-start a counter-attack down the left, which meant that the Toffees defender was targeted time and time again until he was eventually put out of his misery and subbed off at half-time.
In the 14th minute, Drogba pulled the ball back from the left to find Michael Essien, but the Ghanaian could not replicate THAT goal against Barcelona, as he blazed the ball into the Everton fans section.
But a few minutes later, Chelsea did find their equaliser. More good work down the left had seen a perfect cross delivered into the box, but no-one in the middle to meet it. The next time this situation was replicated, in the 21st minute, Malouda sent in the ball, and a late run from a rampaging Drogba yielded a goal as the Ivorian sent a powerful header into the back of the net with Tim Howard well beaten.
A fan next to me joked: “It will be boring now, we’ll just go on and win!”
Never a truer word spoken, even if we did have to wait. Lampard went close shortly after, sending a dipping shot over the bar, while Nicolas Anelka dribbled a shot into Howard’s arms with a tame effort on the half-hour mark. Ashley Cole – who was awarded the man of the match award – also broke into the box past a despairing Hibbert, but sent his shot high and wide of the near post.
After the team talks, the sides came back out for the second 45 with Lars Jacobsen replacing Hibbert. However, although Everton made a change in defence, their attacking play still left a lot to be desired, as they disappointly continued to send long ball after long ball into Fellaini and Saha, with little end product.
Chelsea meanwhile were controlling the play in midfield, with Lampard particularly instrumental. Anelka lobbed over Howard and the crossbar on the hour mark, before a strangely quiet Essien was replaced by Ballack. The German – who has reportedly agreed a new contract with the club – made a big impact with his first action of the game, bundling Anelka over as the two went for the same ball.
Tim Cahill sent a half-chance half-volley towards the Chelsea goal, but Cech was more than equal to it, while Mikel was making friends all over the pitch, picking up a booking for dissent after disagreeing with one of Howard Webb’s decisions.
Saha saw a free header go narrowly over the bar as a rare Everton chance troubled the Chelsea defence, but the Blues went one better in the 72nd minute. Picking up the ball from Anelka, Lampard shook off the attentions of the touch-tight Phil Neville just outside the box and cut back onto his left foot. Despite a slip, he sent a shot firmly into the top-corner of the goal with Howard only able to get fingers to it. 2-1, and party time for the Chelsea fans.
But if that shot was good, Malouda’s next effort was unbelievable in its execution. 30 yards out at least, the rejuvenated French winger sent a crashing shot towards goal. It struck the bar with such ferocity, it crossed the goal line and then spun back out into play. Goal, said the TV cameras.
No goal, said the officials.
Despite being 2-1 down, Everton never really showed the ambition required to get back into the game. Instead, it was Chelsea pushing for another goal, and when Lampard went down in the box late on, he only picked up a yellow card for his troubles rather than the penalty he was looking for.
Four minutes of injury time came and went, and with a final blow of the whistle, the game was over, and Chelsea were victorious.
After such an odd season it was nice to get back to winning ways on the final day. Silverware at last after a brief barren spell, and a great day out for all.
Now if only we could get Hiddink to stay…