Benitez hails 'sunny days' as Chelsea thrash Brentford
Chelsea 4 Brentford 0
On a fleeting glance this presents a plot simple enough to fill the pages of one of Frank Lampard's planned children's novels.
It reads something like this: FA Cup holders oust stubborn underdogs on sunny Sunday and, dear readers, I volley home the third goal with a sweet finish before my old pal JT also scores to show all is sweetness and light in the blue corner of west London. Roman Abramovich was even caught smiling.
Lampard was withdrawn, to warm applause and cries of: "Sign him up", moments before John Terry, back in the side for only his third start under Rafa Benitez, nodded home the afternoon's final goal to confirm a fifth-round trip to Middlesbrough a week on Wednesday. It was a comfortable finish to an ultimately comfortable afternoon but nothing is that simple at Stamford Bridge, certainly not when Banquo's ghost, or Avram Grant, is warming himself in the sunshine. There is layer upon layer of plot and subplot to work through here. Benitez and Terry, Benitez and the supporters, Abramovich and Lampard, now with 199 Chelsea goals to his name but no sign of a new contract, and Abramovich and Benitez. This is Russian novel territory.
"It doesn't matter if I see [Abramovich] or not," said Benitez when asked afterwards if the owner had come to say hello. "The main thing is the team doing well, winning games, clean sheet, four goals. Everything is fine. Sunny days."
On the sunny side of the ground, Grant had paid his respects to Abramovich, clad in a Chelsea Champions League jacket on one of his rare recent visits to the ground, and settled down to watch a first half in which Chelsea huffed and puffed to no avail. Sunday dinners had barely been digested before the first chants for Roberto di Matteo rang around the ground. A placard was displayed telling "Mr A" that Benitez is not the right man for the job.
"I am really pleased to be here, really pleased to work with this group of players, working very hard," said Benitez. "I will try to win every game and see what happens. I know that the priority is to be in the top four and if we can progress in the competitions until the end much better."
There were muted mumblings of discontent when the opening half finished goalless and with little for the home support to cling on to as Brentford, urged on by manager Uwe Rösler, busied themselves in disrupting their hosts' sluggish attempts to discover any rhythm. Twice Lampard scuffed shots when offered presentable opportunities to score, otherwise he was rarely in the game.
Oscar stumbled when given the clearest opening of the half and his mishit shot bounced off a post. Yet it was Brentford, seventh in League One, who had the ball in the net first. Mar-cello Trotta rolled the ball home but not before the referee, Neil Swarbrick, had blown for a foul on the impressive Adam Forshaw, once of Everton.
"With a little bit more fortune, a little bit more sensitivity from the referee we could have had the lead and that is what you need in games when you are massive underdogs," reflected Rösler, who admitted he had been surprised by Chelsea's team-sheet. "He put out a very physical team – Ba, Luiz, Lampard, Ivanovic and two centre-halves – I didn't expect that."
Chelsea were better from the start of the second period, with Juan Mata at the heart of most that was good. The home side at last began to take possession for long periods and an opening goal inside nine minutes put an end to any discontented rumblings in the stands. It came via route one; Petr Cech's punt, Demba Ba's knockdown and an immaculate finish from Mata, low and true from outside the box. It was the Spaniard's 17th of the season.
Rösler acknowledged that was that. His team had expended so much first-half energy that once they went behind there was little they could do to regain a foothold in the game. Oscar back-flicked in the second after Eden Hazard had won the ball in midfield and Branislav Ivanovic crossed low, but Simon Moore, Brentford's keeper, should have kept it out.
Three minutes later came Lampard's moment. Mata made it, haring down the left and picking him out six yards out. It was his 26th goal in the FA Cup, moving him ahead of Bobby Tambling as the club's record scorer in the competition. He is now on 199, three behind Tambling as the overall record scorer.
"He is doing well, he is scoring goals and hopefully he can score another 15 before the end [of the season]," said Benitez. "It will be good for the team, good for him, good for everyone."