Brilliant Ballack fires Chelsea through
Chelsea 3 Ipswich Town 1
Published 25/01/2009 | 13:55
In what was presumably intended as an introduction to metropolitan wit, the stadium announcer declared that the 6,000 Ipswich fans had "probably come here by tractor".
Not that they minded. One of their banners pronounced them to be "anti-modern football". And you could see their point, after their team – winners of this competition under Bobby Robson in 1978 – succumbed to three goals from two of the sport's most expensive midfielders, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard. On the other hand, anyone could see that their respective strikes from free-kicks reflected only glory on the contemporary game.
Ipswich had apparently been assisted in their preparations by an Australian hypnotist, but began in a condition dangerously resembling somnambulism. They watched timidly as their lordly opponents, suave and energetic, created a series of early openings. It required barely a minute for Florent Malouda to force Richard Wright into the first of many saves, while Ballack, deftly picked out in the box by Nicolas Anelka, flashed wide in total isolation. Juliano Belletti, replacing the suspended Jon Obi Mikel in front of the defence, brought immediate assurance to the role, and within a quarter of an hour the dam had crumbled. Lampard chipped high into the box where a sliding prod from Ashley Cole was met, with another timely skid, by Ballack.
Whether or not complacency infected their hosts, it is to Ipswich's credit that they now grew conviction, rather than otherwise. Petr Cech was relieved to see Tommy Miller's free-kick curl over the bar after Alex's clumsy hack on David Norris, but the next transgression, a difference of Iberian opinions between Ricardo Carvalho and Pablo Counago on the right, had rather graver consequences.
Carvalho compounded matters by failing to deal with Owen Garvan's free-kick, which ricocheted on to Alex and into the path of Alex Bruce, who from six yards probably found his incredulity harder to conquer than the helpless Cech. Perhaps Ipswich had sensed that they were in danger of betraying their own, refined football pedigree. Jim Magilton, their manager, wants his players to be worthy of the knightly legacy of Alf Ramsey and Robson.
Chelsea's recent cup embarrassments here, at the hands of Burnley and Southend United, ensured that the home fans never relaxed. There were relieved cheers when Didier Drogba, banished for the two previous games, emerged from the bench as the hour approached. And within two minutes, Chelsea were ahead.
Luiz Felipe Scolari apparently views Drogba and Anelka as too dysfunctional a pairing, but disclosed his anxiety about the scoreline by instead replacing Malouda. Sure enough, it was Anelka who promptly won a free-kick 25 yards out, tripped by Garvan as he skipped through the middle. Wright was excellent all afternoon, but never had a prayer with Ballack's masterpiece.
And even that was surpassed, five minutes from time, when Lampard produced a still finer confection. To Ray Wilkins, Scolari's assistant, it was just icing on the cake. "Did you notice, at 3-1, the way he sprinted back 75 yards to make a tackle over the halfway line?" he asked. "And Michael covers probably more acreage than anyone else in the side – the work he puts in for the team is untouchable."
Ipswich, meanwhile, were sent back to the Championship knowing that things just ain't what they used to be. "I thought we gave a good account of ourselves, and had some really good opportunities," Magilton said. "I hope the experience of coming here should make the players even more motivated to get back in the Premier League. We want to come to places like this every week."
Referee: Alan Wiley
Man of the match: Ballack