The London side progresses to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup in its first match under its interim manager, but is made to work hard by the Championship side.Chelsea’s first game after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas began with a hardworking but deserved 2-0 victory over Birmingham City in their FA Cup fifth round replay thanks to goals from Juan Mata and Raul Meireles.
The first half was a very tight affair, with the home side preventing Chelsea from playing any flowing football. However, neither side could create many clearcut chances, apart from a superb header from Birmingham’s Nikola Zigic that forced a fingertip save from Petr Cech.
By contrast, the second half was largely dominated by Chelsea, as the home side could not mount any serious attacks of its own. A superb finish from Juan Mata gave the Blues the lead, before a superb strike from Raul Meireles doubled their advantage. Despite Mata having a penalty saved by Colin Doyle, the away side held on relatively comfortably to take a 2-0 win, and progress to the next round of the FA Cup.
Birmingham played a strong side, with Nikola Zigic getting the start up front and young winger Nathan Redmond also being included from the beginning. However, neither goal scorer from the team's 2-2 draw against Derby County could find a place in the starting XI, with Erik Huseklepp not making the matchday squad and Marlon King only named as a substitute.
Meanwhile, Chelsea played a relatively experimental side in interim manager Roberto di Matteo’s first game in charge. John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba were all named as substitutes on a strong bench, while Fernando Torres started up front with Salomon Kalou and Juan Mata.
The game began with Chelsea dominating the possession, with Juan Mata getting free in Birmingham’s half, but he dawdled before taking his shot and it was well saved by goalkeeper Colin Doyle. However, the home side began to have some attacks of its own, with striker Wade Elliott impressing with some superb footwork.
Birmingham was looking very industrious, with young Nathan Redmond and Nikola Zigic both impressing in the early stages, and the away side was struggling to find any space on the pitch in the face of its opponents’ hard work in the first 20 minutes.
The home side had dominated the opening stages of the first half, but struggled to create any clearcut shooting opportunities. However, its defense managed to restrict Chelsea, and prevented it from playing any flowing football.
As the first half wore on, the away side began to see more of the possession, but Birmingham had a great chance of its own near the end of the half. A superb cross from Redmond was brilliantly headed towards the goal by Zigic, and it was only kept out by the fingertips of Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal.
That moment was one of the last notable passages of play in the first half, apart from a superb turn in the penalty area by Torres, but he shot horribly wide with his left foot. The half ended scoreless, a fair reflection of what was a tight half of cup football.
The second half began in a similar fashion, with both sides working hard and looking to make inroads in their opposition’s defense. However, neither side could create any clearcut chances until the 54th minute, when after a superb run and cross from Ramires caused havoc in the Birmingham penalty area, Mata was there to tuck the ball away and give Chelsea a 1-0 lead.
Having taken the lead, the away side began to increase the tempo of its play, and was soon rewarded again. After some brilliant work on the right by Branislav Ivanovic, he crossed in, and after a layoff by Ramires, Raul Meireles hit a shot first-time from just outside the penalty area. It flew into the top corner, and gave Chelsea a deserved 2-0 lead in the 59th minute.
The home side had no answer to the now-constant barrage of attacks, and a shell-shocked defense was put under yet more pressure in the 68th minute. After a well-worked one-two between Ivanovic and Torres, the Spaniard was fouled in the penalty area by Guirane N’Daw, who was cautioned for his poor tackle.
A penalty was awarded, and Mata stepped up to take it. However, it was saved well by Birmingham’s Doyle, who kept the score at 2-0 to Chelsea. The save seemed to galvanize both the home side and its supporters, who now had renewed confidence their team could regain a foothold in the tie.
From then on, the game was more open, as Birmingham looked to surge forward and reduce the deficit. However, it largely struggled to create any chances, with Jordon Mutch spooning a shot over the bar in the 81st minute after a superb ball from second-half substitute Chris Burke.
The home side could not find any openings thanks to some superb Chelsea defense, and it went down to a 2-0 defeat. The away side now progresses into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, where it will face Leicester City at home, the conquerors of Premier League side Norwich City in the previous round.