Chelsea squeeze past plucky Scunthorpe in the FA Cup
Diego Costa scored once and helped make the space for another as Chelsea sputtered for long stretches Sunday before advancing to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The defending Premier League champions began their Cup campaign at Stamford Bridge with a 2-0 triumph over League One Scunthorpe United. While the result was hardly unexpected Chelsea's muted performance, coming on the heels of a strong showing at Crystal Palace, suggests that new boss Guus Hiddink still has work remaining to fine-tune the Blue machine.
Despite the early goal. this was a hard Cup slog for the Premier Leaguers, who found themselves very much in a battle against a side with little pedigree but full of fight. After Costa's goal the London Blues did not take a stranglehold on the match, instead allowing their opponents to challenge all over the pitch, giving as good as they received for long stretches. It remained for Ruben Loftus-Cheek to make the match safe in the 68th minute.
Scunthorpe are nestled in the middle of their League One table in 15th place, seven points clear of the drop zone but a distant 21 points behind leader Burton Albion. Founded in 1899 their best-ever finish in league football came in 1961-2 when they were fourth in the old Second Division, now re-named the Championship. Their best Cup run came 45 years ago when they reached the fifth round.
Thus they came to London as decided underdogs, eventually beaten, not outworked. They simply lacked the quality to finish some of their energetic raids, attacks which kept Chelsea from taking real control of the match as they should have expected to do.
There was no doubt that Hiddink is aiming at a Cup run as he fielded a virtually full-strength side against the visiting minnows even with Wednesday's Barclays league match against West Bromwich Albion on the immediate horizon. But he could not have been happy with the manner in which Scunthorpe's effort often took his side out of its rhythm.
The opening goal came in just 13 minutes when the back-in-form Costa neatly met a cross from Branislav Ivanovic, ghosting inside of Jordan Clarke to get a fine touch, turning the ball past Luke Daniels. While there will be debate about whether Clarke got an unfortunate final touch that produced the goal, it was Costa's movement and his menacing presence which made it.
Scunthorpe refused to yield, battled, defended well and took play into the Chelsea half when they could. Captain Stephen Dawson forced Gary Cahill to head away his hard drive, Kurt Zouma had to shut down a Luke Williams run and the visitors tried their best to take advantage of set pieces.
Scunthorpe wanted a penalty in the 54th minute when Kevin van Veen was clipped by Ramires as he thundered down the inside left channel into the box. Nothing was given by referee Craig Pawson and replays suggested that any foul may have happened outside the area.
Chelsea finally got needed breathing room when the substitute Loftus-Cheek first-timed a pull-back cross from Cesar Azpilicueta as Costa made a dummy run to open space for the finish. Having coming on for an ineffective Oscar at the interval, the talented teenager took advantage of his opportunity, powering his shot into the near left corner.