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Sunday, January 30, 2005 

Chelsea 2 - Birmingham City 0 (FA Cup)

Chelsea defenders have not lacked praise for their work at the back this season but in a difficult all-Premiership FA Cup tie at the Bridge, it was their goalscoring exploits that won the day.

Robert Huth scored the first in his first Chelsea start of the season, the goal coming early in what was a comfortable opening 45 minutes for José Mourinho’s side. But when the visitors from the Midlands stepped up their performance after the break, Chelsea failed to put the game to bed until captain John Terry produced the goods ten minutes from time. Then the battle was over.

A less fluid performance than Stamford Bridge has grown accustomed to was perhaps understandable. As promised, José Mourinho chose to rest a few of his regulars with a busy programme ahead - Gallas, Ferreira and Makelele notably absent with Lampard and Robben on the bench.

It made room for Jiri Jarosik to make his first Chelsea start and as against Scunthorpe, Cudicini, Johnson and Kezman were all selected. In all there were eight changes from the Old Trafford side and with unfamiliarity all over the pitch, a calculated risk was being taken against top division opposition. As against Scunthorpe again, it was a plan that paid off.

Birmingham arrived with a depleted squad and found themselves in need of a new captain after Kenny Cunningham failed to recover from injury in time. The armband was handed to Mario Melchiot on his first return to the Bridge after his summer move.

The new-look Chelsea started well. An early Cole cross after Gudjohnsen had opened Birmingham up fell just behind Kezman and on four minutes, a Kezman flick sent Duff through, Taylor pulling off a finger-tip save to keep the shot out.

The corner that followed was cleared behind but a second attempt, taken by Duff saw Huth left all alone. Rising high, he thumped in a header which Maik Taylor got a hand to but found the power far too great. The young international had put his team ahead after just five minutes.

Birmingham were a tall team but they were not defending like one. On several further occasions, high balls into the box had them floundering and it took a desperate block by Martin Taylor to keep Huth from scoring a second.

The injury-hit visitors suffered a further blow when centre-back Taylor was forced to leave the field with just 25 minutes gone, an existing head wound re-opening. Tebily was the replacement with Melchiot moving into the centre.

Just past the half-hour, an exquisite link-up between Jarosik and Cole carved Birmingham open but Duff, with a clean sight of the target, uncharacteristically snatched at his shot which was blocked as it was heading well wide.

A fallow ten minutes followed, Chelsea content to keep possession until Wayne Bridge took a grip on proceedings, surging forward and sending Duff away. Swerving one way, then the other, this time his strike was true but Tebily was fortuitously placed to turn it behind.

The corner was taken by Duff again; Terry challenged and the ball fell to Huth at the far-post. His volley was miss-hit into the ground, bouncing up onto the bar with Birmingham players placed on the line. It was the last action of a half that had seen Steve Bruce’s side offer very little in the way of a threat, failing to win a single corner.

Arjen Robben was introduced after the interval, he and Duff sharing a half each but unlike the first 45 minutes, the side the Dutchman joined was forced to sweat for victory.

It took Cudicini to be at his sharpest to stop Birmingham just seven minutes in. Julian Gray who produced an influential second-half dsiplay, beat Glen Johnson in the tackle and crossed too high for Heskey but when Anderton picked up the pieces, he hit an arrow of a shot which the Chelsea keeper tipped over at his near-post.

Terry then chested away another Anderton drive and when Birmingham broke down the Chelsea right, an area that was proving vulnerable, Blake drilled a shot worryingly close to the target.

Jarosik had enjoyed a tidy first-half but with Chelsea looking increasingly stretched in midfield, the answer was to send for Frank Lampard – the midfield main-man coming on for Kezman with Cole pushed into the forward three.

A lightning Chelsea break just before that switch saw Kezman latch onto Johnson’s long ball, his square pass worked on to Robben by Gudjohnsen but the eventual shot flew over. Gudjohnsen was replaced on 65 minutes by Drogba.

There was an escape soon after following the rarest of all mistakes, a soft Terry back-header. It gave Blake a sniff of goal but Cudicini stretched and caught the attempted lob.

The two most recent substitutes almost made the difference on 69 minutes, Lampard turning Drogba’s pass on target and Taylor pulling off a fine save to keep his team in the tie.

With time running out, Birmingham freshened up their forward line – Morrison, then Yorke replacing Heskey and Anderton. At the same time Chelsea were forced into a switch of our own. In an important block tackle some minutes earlier, Huth had injured his knee but struggled on with restricted mobility. With all subs used it was decided to move him into midfield with Jarosik dropping back.

The game was still on an edge as the final ten minutes approached but not for the first time and surely not for the last, John Terry answered his team’s call at a crucial time.

Remaining up field after a free-kick had been cleared, the Chelsea captain was found by Lampard’s diagonal ball and with the perfect header, he planted the ball across Taylor and into the net.

With a two-goal margin at last, Huth was called off as Chelsea ended the game with ten men. The big defender’s afternoon did not end as happily as it had begun.

Birmingham’s resistance was not totally broken, Clapham a whisker away with a curling free-kick that Cudicini was struggling to reach. There was time for one more attack from the away side, Terry symbolically the man in the way once again.

His goal was an impressive seventh for the season, Robert Huth’s was the second of his career. It had been quite a struggle second-half but between them, the big two at the back had put their club into the FA Cup fifth round for the eighth time in the last ten years. The fight stays alive on all four fronts.

Source: chelseafc.com.

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