Football: Revived Blues march on

Despite the close attention of Scunthorpe defenders, Diego Costa (centre) was still able to find a way to score Chelsea's opening goal in their FA Cup third-round tie.
Despite the close attention of Scunthorpe defenders, Diego Costa (centre) was still able to find a way to score Chelsea's opening goal in their FA Cup third-round tie.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

They ease past lowly Scunthorpe as Diego Costa rediscovers his scoring boots


Chelsea 2

Scunthorpe 0

History did not repeat itself. The last time Chelsea met League One opposition in the FA Cup, their manager suffered the most embarrassing defeat of his career and it ranked among the greatest upsets in the competition's history.

This was altogether different. This was the expected progress, ensured professionally. Jose Mourinho branded last year's defeat by Bradford "a disgrace". This time, the only real alarm came when Kevin van Veen claimed a penalty as Ramires challenged him.

Referee Craig Pawson dismissed his appeals and victory over Scunthorpe was secured by Diego Costa's and Ruben Loftus-Cheek's goals and set up by an interim manager's caution.

In a season littered with ignominious setbacks, Guus Hiddink took precautions to avert another. Chelsea fielded arguably the strongest side selected anywhere in England this weekend.

While the Dutchman could have been more adventurous, he won the FA Cup in 2009 and it offers pretty much the best chance that he can head into retirement with more silverware. Moreover, after last week's win at Crystal Palace, victory crystallised the impression that a revival is underway.

Cesc Fabregas resembled the player he was last season, controlling play imperiously. Costa found the net, as he has done in each game he has played under Hiddink. The defence kept a third consecutive clean sheet. Chelsea even had that welcome rarity, a goal from a product of their prolific academy.

Yet the reality is that most of Chelsea's many youngsters are not trusted to play in the first team. Loftus-Cheek only began on the bench against a team 15th in the third tier. But, brought on for Oscar at the break, he killed off Scunthorpe with an assured finish from Cesar Azpilicueta's cutback.

If the 19-year-old, who opened his Chelsea account, was a new name on the scoresheet, the overriding theme of Hiddink's brief reign is the return to form and favour of Mourinho's underachievers. Instead of rejecting them, he is rejuvenating them.

Branislav Ivanovic was perhaps the first of the totems to fall, a traumatic campaign beginning with an opening-day evisceration at the hands of Swansea's Jefferson Montero. This was an altogether easier afternoon.

Costa had already begun his journey on the road to redemption and they combined for the opener, the Spaniard volleying in the Serb's touch.

Costa has now scored as many goals for Hiddink this season - four in three games - as he did for Mourinho.

Pedro and Oscar, two other beneficiaries of Mourinho's departure, threatened to add to the lead but this was a sedate affair until Scunthorpe were belatedly stirred into life. They were more aggressive in the second half.

It was a policy that threatened to bring its reward but, although Jordan Clarke struck the bar with a late, ferocious shot, they could not emulate Bradford.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2016, with the headline 'Revived Blues march on'. Print Edition | Subscribe