Last night’s FA Cup replay between Birmingham City and Chelsea was perhaps overshadowed by the sacking of Andre-Villas Boas prior to the game, and as such not as much focus was put on the match itself. After a toughly contested battle at the Bridge in which the Championship side stood toe to toe with the Premier League elite for the whole of the ninety minutes, the Blues from Birmingham had every right to be confident going into yesterday evening’s fixture. But in the battle of the Blues it was the London contingent who came out smiling.
An injury-hit Birmingham fielded a weakened team from their weekend’s draw against Derby County. Midfielder Guirane N’Daw was drafted in at left back, whilst out and out striker Adam Rooney played in more of a winger’s role. Chelsea again fielded a team fit to grace the Premier League, just like they had at Stamford Bridge where the teams drew 1-1, with Petr Cech, Fernando Torres, Saloman Kalou and Gary Cahill just some of the big name players in the starting line-up.
But once the game kicked off it was a different story. Again, Blues were Chelsea’s equals: frustrating the away side and playing the better football in the opening periods of the game. Nikola Zigic’s sublime flick of the ball set up Wade Elliott early on, but the midfielder was unable to take advantage of some outstanding play. Chelsea’s defence were put on red alert soon after, with Zigic again getting in on the act; this time setting up Nathan Redmond who, on his eighteenth birthday, was dispossessed before he could unleash a shot on goal.
After some half-chances for Chelsea that were coped with well by the Blues defence, the forty minute mark saw the home side come inches from getting their noses in front. Jordon Mutch’s free kick met the head of Curtis Davies, who’s header was flicked goal wards by Zigic. The ball looked to be heading for the roof of the net until Cech pulled off a fingertip save to deny the Serbian. The tables then turned, this time with Chelsea having a brilliant chance to break the deadlock, but Torres shot horribly wide and was suitably jeered by the Tilton for his simply awful effort.
Roberto Di Matteo’s half time team talk certainly worked wonders as Chelsea came out of the blocks second half with intent to wrap the game up early on. They had break through not long after, with Juan Mata finally getting the better of Colin Doyle and putting his side in front.
Minutes later and they had their second, this time Raul Meireles firing an unstoppable shot past Doyle who had no hope. Blues looked like they were going to be on the wrong end of a big score-line, and it got worse when N’Daw’s trip on Torres gave Chelsea a spot kick. But Doyle was the shot stopping hero again, foiling Mata like he had at the Bridge and giving Blues hope that they may get something out of the game.
With time left Blues produced attack after attack. Hughton threw caution to the wind and opted for three at the back, in the hope that his side would get back into the game. Their best chance of the game fell to Mutch as substitute Chris Burke fed him a perfect ball but, one on one with the keeper, Mutch fired agonizingly over the goal.
And two nil it finished, but Blues can admire their courageous efforts against one of the Premier League’s top teams. All focus is now solely on promotion, with the chase heading to relegation strugglers Coventry City on Saturday. Blues, although in the top six, may find themselves outside of it come match-day with Brighton and Cardiff due to play each other later on this evening.