Sproule delight at run of goals
On a weekend of FA Cup upsets a professional display from Chelsea ensured there was no further embarrassment in the capital as they beat Brentford 4-0 at Stamford Bridge to earn themselves a spot in the fifth round.
Brentford proved difficult to break down in the opening 45 minutes of an engaging replay but Chelsea improved beyond recognition after the interval as goals from Juan Mata, Oscar, Frank Lampard and John Terry extinguished the League One side's hopes of pulling off the unlikeliest of scalps.
Rafa Benitez gave the competition the respect it deserves in selecting a strong Chelsea XI but it was largely a flat first half performance from the hosts, who started the contest 48 places above their visitors. Brentford kept a solid shape throughout and while only threatening intermittently they grew in confidence as the half progressed, with Chelsea and Lampard in particular left to rue profligacy in front of goal.
The England man twice squandered gilt-edged chances in failing to make a proper connection when well-placed from Branislav Ivanovic right wing deliveries.
The Serbian had earlier gone close himself to breaking the deadlock when a looping header drifted over the top of Bees goalkeeper Simon Moore's far post.
For Brentford it was the industrious and highly-rated Adam Forshaw who looked the likeliest bet for Uwe Rosler's side as two decent strikes had power but lacked precision from range.
The closest either side came to threatening the score-sheet arrived on 25 minutes when Oscar, Chelsea's brightest spark, clipped the outside of the post after being fed in by Mata.
An over eager whistle from Neil Swarbrick angered Brentford's players towards the end of the first period when Marcello Trotta had the ball in Chelsea's net but not before the match official had blown for a foul on Forshaw on the edge of the area.
Presumably with a flea in their ear Chelsea came out for the second half with more purpose as Moore was forced into a smart early stop when he repelled Ivanovic's powerful header from a corner.
There was nothing he could do though in the 54th minute to prevent Chelsea from taking the lead. Petr Cech's long clearance downfield set up an aerial duel won by Demba Ba and, when the ball broke to Mata 20 yards from goal, he set his sights before rifling a trademark daisy cutter past Moore in some style.
It was a lead doubled by Oscar's impudent flick from close range after substitute Eden Hazard had picked off some wasteful Brentford passing to feed-in a marauding Ivanovic, whose cross was beautifully finished by the Brazilian.
Thereafter it was a question of how many Chelsea might score as Lampard bagged himself another club record when his tap-in from Mata's clipped cross, his 199th goal for Chelsea, saw him surpass Bobby Tambling's record for FA Cup strikes on 26.
An almost perfect second half was capped by a Terry goal on his return as he rose at the far post to nod in Oscar's clever looping cross. The only sour note of the afternoon came five minutes from time when David Luiz needlessly crashed into Bees substitute Jake Reeves in a reckless challenge that could have earned him a red card from a less lenient referee.
Chelsea will now play Middlesbrough at The Riverside in the fifth round.
Sproule had missed the previous two games with a hamstring injury but bounced back to score a superb goal in the 11th minute on at the Global Energy Stadium, sending a shot from the edge of the 18-yard box into the top corner.
It was his fourth goal in as many starts for his new club since his move last month from Hibernian, as Ross extended their unbeaten run to seven games.
For Sproule, the move is going according to plan, and he said: "I'm enjoying my football at the moment. I took a wee knock which kept me out for two games but I came back in - I'm just glad to be playing and get the win.
"But all credit goes to the lads, they turned in two good performances while I was out of the team.
"This is the reason I came to the club, to play games and pick up three points every weekend - and that's what I'm doing at the minute."
Describing his goal, Sproule added: "I fancied a whip at it and luckily for me it flew into the top corner.
"I don't care who scores, we've got the three points.
"I'm in a rich vein of form. I was trying to put it in off the post, there was no other place I could have put it."
The Northern Irishman has already made himself a mainstay at County, in contrast to his second spell at Easter Road where he failed to establish a regular starting spot.
Although the 31-year-old has no rancour about his time at Hibs second time around, he is relieved to be playing a major part now.
"I didn't get playing at Hibs," he said.
"It wasn't to do with my form, it was a personal choice by the manager.
"I respected him though because he's got a decision to make. I played in the Championship for four years and won a cup with Hibs and I came up here with nothing to prove to anybody."
St Johnstone defender Callum Davidson admired Sproule's goal but also felt it was not their day.
He said: "It was a fantastic finish, I'm not quite sure he meant it to stick it in that top corner but it was a good finish.
"We kind of put pressure on them after that but nothing really fell for us.
"We maybe looked a little bit lethargic in the last third.
"I thought the effort was there; it was just one of those games - you just have to pat Ross County on the back and say they defended really well."
Davidson added: "It was a big game for us going into the Celtic game on Tuesday.
"If we got a result today it would have put us in a prime position.
"It is not an easy place to come to and the pitch wasn't great either.
"We were all pretty angry and upset in the changing room after the result, that shows the lads care.
"Celtic are in the middle of a big run at the moment, we'll see what team they put out.
"We had a couple of good results against them in the league.
"But it's up to us to recover properly and go again on Tuesday."