Chelsea into last eight after routing Cardiff
LONDON: Didier Drogba played the starring role as holders Chelsea eased into the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 4-1 win over Championship side Cardiff on Saturday.
Carlo Ancelotti's side showed they could cope without the leadership of captain John Terry, who had been time off to fly to Dubai to solve his marital issues after reports of an affair with the ex-girlfriend of England team-mate Wayne Bridge.
Ivory Coast international Drogba gave them the perfect start with a second minute goal and, although Michael Chopra forced an equaliser before half-time, the Blues ran out convincing winners thanks to strikes from Michael Ballack, Daniel Sturridge and substitute Salomon Kalou.
Terry had used his programme notes to thank supporters for their backing during the storm over his personal problems, and also admitted he was at fault for both goals in the midweek 2-1 defeat at Everton.
In his absence, Frank Lampard led Chelsea out at Stamford Bridge for this fifth round encounter. Defender Ashley Cole was also out of action due to an ankle injury, which could rule him out for three months.
Chelsea took a quick lead as Nigerian midfielder Jon Obi Mikel played a long pass from his own half, and with Cardiff's back four caught flat, Drogba stole in to send a classy finish beyond goalkeeper David Marshall.
It was Drogba's 23rd goal of the season, taking him level with Wayne Rooney of Manchester United in the race to finish the country's top scorer.
Dave Jones' men, backed by over 5,800 fans, had scored in all but one of their previous 12 away encounters ahead of this trip, and refused to let the goal impact on their ambitions.
They had two fantastic opportunities to pull the scoreline level before eventually equalising.
The first chance fell to Anthony Gerrard, cousin of Liverpool's Steven Gerrard, who directed a header towards the far corner of the net, only for home goalkeeper Henrique Hilario to produce a superb one handed stop.
From the resulting corner Gabor Gyepes headed into the six yard box, but Chopra could only steer the ball over the crossbar.
Then, on 34 minutes, Chelsea defender Alex was left hopelessly out of position from Chris Burke's cross, and Chopra effortlessly despatched a glancing header past Hilario.
Chelsea players were shaking their heads as they headed for the tunnel at half-time, and during the break midfield player Joe Cole was substituted.
The second half started in the same fashion as the first though, and Ballack moved Chelsea back into the lead on 51 minutes.
Drogba produced a defence splitting pass and the Germany midfielder raced through one-on-one with the goalkeeper before producing a cool left foot finish.
The Premier League title remains Chelsea's top priority this season, yet the FA Cup has become a real carrot since Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal suffered early exits.
Cardiff reached the final themselves in 2008, where they were beaten by Portsmouth, but this year it just was not written in the script.
On 69 minutes, Sturridge scored his fourth FA Cup goal of the season. The former Manchester City forward had started the move, and after playing a pass into Drogba, the ball ricocheted back into his path and he made no mistake.
Kalou made sure their was no late scare, as he brilliantly headed home a right wing cross from Paulo Ferreira with four minutes remaining.