Blues book place in FA Cup final

Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba pounced in the 67th minute to put

Chelsea in front and late goals from Florent Malouda and Frank

Lampard ensured they remain in the hunt to become only the seventh

English team to win both competitions in the same season. It was

Drogba’s 32nd goal of the season but until he struck with typically

clinical efficiency, the FA Cup holders had laboured against a side

they hammered 7-1 in the league at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side looked lethargic and out of sorts in a

largely forgettable opening half. The state of the Wembley pitch

was the biggest factor as the semi-final got underway, with players

from both sides failing to keep their feet. Villa, still smarting

from that heavy drubbing, settled much quicker than Chelsea. But

Chelsea had their isolated moments. Joe Cole, attempting to

persuade watching England boss Fabio Capello that he is worth a

place in his squad for the World Cup finals, sent an angled drive

just wide from 20 yards in the 11th minute. But Villa had more

intensity about their game and, although the players continued to

be hampered by the greasy surface, they possessed more menace.

James Milner almost put them in front in the 14th minute when his

25-yard drive flashed inches wide of Petr Cech’s right-hand post.

But the biggest talking point of the opening half, even eclipsing

the state of the pitch, was a Villa penalty appeal that was firmly

rejected by Howard Webb. Gabriel Agbonlahor looked to have pulled

the shirt of John Obi Mikel before the Villa striker went down

under his challenge. Referee Webb dismissed their appeals, much to

the chagrin of coach Martin O’Neill in the Villa technical area.

Villa’s high-tempo game was causing Chelsea all kinds of problems

and the league leaders needed a last-gasp header from captain John

Terry to prevent John Carew from finishing off a fine cross by

Stewart Downing. But in the 34th minute, Villa were thankful for a

superb block by Stephen Warnock as Florent Malouda’s cross provided

Drogba with an opening. Chelsea countered through the lively Cole

who forced Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel into a fine save at his

near post when Warnock’s poor header fell to the Chelsea winger.

Villa striker John Carew, who had been marshalled superbly by Terry

for much of the game, was just wide from a corner by Downing in the

46th minute. But Villa’s game fell away, just as it had done in the

league game a fortnight ago, and Chelsea, buoyed by a half-time

pep-talk from Ancelotti, set about their opponents for the first

time in the game. Deco sent a half-volley wide of the target in the

50th minute and moments later Cole just failed to get on the end of

a Drogba cross at the near post. Cole made way for Salomon Kalou in

the 64th minute and two minutes later the substitute played a part

in Chelsea’s opener. Kalou found the rampaging Drogba with a clever

through-ball but he was foiled by a challenge from Richard Dunne.

But Chelsea made Villa pay from Malouda’s corner. Dunne could only

head the ball straight to Terry and his mis-hit shot fell to the

unmarked Drogba, who steered it home from six yards. It was his

fifth goal in competitive matches at Wembley and broke Villa’s

resistance completely. O’Neill’s side, faced with lifting

themselves in the final 20 minutes, huffed and puffed without

troubling Cech in the Chelsea goal. It was Chelsea who finished the

stronger and they booked a place in their third FA Cup final in

four years through Malouda in the 89th minute. Frank Lampard fed

substitute Michael Ballack on the right wing and the German crossed

superbly for Malouda to sweep the ball home at the far post.

Lampard scored a third from close range in added time but by then

it was all academic, with Chelsea’s double dream still very much

alive.