LONDON: Demba Ba was the hero as Chelsea edged closer to a fifth FA Cup triumph in seven seasons by defeating Manchester United 1-0 in their quarter-final replay at Stamford Bridge.
The former Rouen, Mouscron, Hoffenheim, West Ham and Newcastle striker was named official man of the match after striking one of the finest goals of the season early in the second half.
That was his fifth – and most important – goal in 16 appearances since his arrival in January for an apparent bargain at a ‘mere’ £7m. It was also a replica of a goal Ba had scored against United for Newcastle.
United, record 11-times winners of the FA Cup, had only themselves to blame after allowing Chelsea to claw back a two-goal deficit at Old Trafford last month.
Ironically, both clubs have Manchester City in their path on their respective prize progress. United face second-placed City in the Premier League next Monday while Chelsea will play them in the Cup semi-finals.
Win that and the Blues will be within 90 minutes of providing a consoling gloss over a season bruised by the controversial managerial replacement of popular Roberto Di Matteo with unpopular Rafa Benitez, by the early loss of the Champions League trophy and uncertainties over the fitness of John Terry and future of Frank Lampard.
United omitted Wayne Rooney because of a groin strain picked up playing for England last week but manager Sir Alex Ferguson hopes he will be fit for next Monday’s Manchester derby. Chicharito Hernandez, a regular scorer against Chelsea, led the line and went close with a swerving shot which surprised Petr Cech shortly before half-time.
Otherwise, the initial exchanges between the fans had been sharper than the exchanges out on the pitch.
United supporters jeered about Terry’s role in over the racist abuse incident with Anton Ferdinand while Chelsea supporters booed Rio Ferdinand for preferring a TV gig with Aljazeera to playing for England last week.
The second half was a total, thrilling contrast. Ba opened the scoring with a brilliant hooked volley on the run in the 49th minute then Cech, at the other end, made a remarkable reflex save to a diving header from Hernandez.
But Chelsea returned to the attack and Juan Mata drew a quick-witted one-hand save from De Gea. Then Eden Hazard, darting through the centre, shot wastefully wide of both De Gea and the keeper’s left-hand post.
The Blues found more space and looked ever more dangerous on the break as United had changed tactics and personnel, successively, by bringing top scorer Robin Van Persie, Ryan Giggs and then Ashley Young.
Van Persie should have equalised three minutes from the end when, unmarked in front of goal, he volleyed Patrice Evra’s cross over the bar from close range. In stoppage time Van Persie headed a Young cross over the bar.
There was time only for man of the match Ba to give way to Torres before Chelsea could celebrate their place in the FA Cup semi-finals.
“We love the FA Cup,” said Cech afterwards.
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