Neglected Ones prove worth to Special One

Posted by Mark Worrall

AP Photo/Kirsty WigglesworthFernando Torres, right, scored Chelsea's first goal.

Chelsea coasted into the fourth round of the League Cup with a 2-0 victory at Swindon Town Tuesday courtesy of first-half goals scored by Fernando Torres and Ramires.

The margin of victory should have widened in the second half, but a combination of excellent keeping by Wesley Foderingham under the bar for Swindon, and profligacy from the Blues' Willian spared the home side the ignominy of a thrashing.

It had been almost 20 years since Chelsea last headed west to play Swindon Town in a competitive fixture. On that occasion, in what was then known as the Premiership, the Blues prevailed 3-1 in a game more memorable for the vitriolic abuse the home support directed at visiting manager Glenn Hoddle than anything on offer on the field.

Having guided the Robins into the top flight via the play-offs at the end of the previous season, Hoddle had been persuaded by then-Chelsea owner Ken Bates to mastermind a sexy football revolution at Stamford Bridge. Swindon supporters were less than impressed, blaming Hoddle, the man they once hailed as the Messiah, for leaving their team in the lurch.

"Judas" they barracked, to the amusement of those who already knew of Hoddle's religious leanings. It mattered little -- already marooned at the bottom of the table, Swindon would eventually ship a remarkable 100 goals on their way to being relegated, a record that remains to this very day.

In the intervening years, the fortunes of both clubs could not have been more different. Bates appointment of Hoddle set off a chain of events that a decade later would see Chelsea bought by Roman Abramovich, while Swindon Town slumped to footballs basement. Recently revived by managerial maverick Paulo Di Canio, the Robins, now under the stewardship of little-known nonleague journeyman coach Paul Cooper, are a mid-table League One outfit whose team regularly comprises a half-dozen former members of the Tottenham Hotspur youth academy and ex-Newcastle United striker Nile Ranger.

Tuesday, Cooper and his team had one objective -- giant-killing. Defeating Chelsea would raise the profile of the Swindon manager and his players and plunge the Blues into yet another media-manufactured crisis.

Crisis? What crisis? For Jose Mourinho, with one beady eye on Chelsea’s Premier League clash with Spurs on Saturday, the cup tie simply provided him with an opportunity to field some of the less-utilised members of his multi-million pound squad -- most notably David Luiz and Juan Mata.

In goal, capable veteran Mark Schwarzer deputised for Petr Cech while partnering Luiz in defence, champions of Europe Gary Cahill and Ryan Bertrand were augmented by Europa League winner Cesar Azpilicueta. Starting in midfield, medal-laden Michael Essien, Marco van Ginkel, Mata, Kevin De Bruyne and Willian and up front with Fernando Torres. Some second-string XI.

Whichever way you looked at it, Mourinho’s team oozed quality. Fairy tales are few and far between in modern football, and as referee Michael Oliver got proceedings underway at the County Ground there was little to suggest that Swindon were going to write a new chapter in a book they so famously contributed to way back in 1969, when as a Third Division side they defeated the mighty Arsenal in the final of this very competition.

And so it transpired. For the best part of 30 minutes, Swindon held their own as Chelsea's players acclimatized themselves not only to their spartan surroundings but seemingly to each other. Van Ginkel was an unfortunate early casualty.

Leaving the field with less than 10 minutes played, the young Dutchman was replaced by the combative Ramires, the forced change immediately strengthening Chelsea's midfield.

When it came, there was an inevitability that Chelsea’s opening goal would be scored by Torres and assisted by Mata. Out to prove a point, the Spanish duo had already started to combine well and when Ramires deftly unlocked the Swindon defence to find an unmarked Mata on the edge of the box.

The ‘Neglected One’ fired a low right-foot shot which looked destined for the far corner of the Robins’ net until Foderingham managed to get a hand to the ball. Unfortunately for Swindon, Torres, with a poacher’s eye for goal, was there to prod the ball home.

Minutes later, Chelsea went further ahead. Torres was the provider this time, the Blues No. 9 skipping elegantly past a couple of Robins defenders before teeing up Ramires, who volleyed the ball into the top-right corner with a deft right-foot shot.

A 2-0 half-time lead was always going to be easy to defend for the visitors. Swindon did manage to get the ball in the Chelsea net early in the second half when Dany N'Guessan nodded home a Jay McEveley free kick but the linesman rightly flagged offside. It was the closest the home side would get to any kind of glory, and as the game ground on, Cooper’s youngsters began to tire.

Willian and Torres both had chances to increase the Blues lead, the Brazilian fluffing an opportunity when the ball fell at his feet after Foderingham stopped the Spaniard and later missing again when the right thing to do would have been to pass to his teammate.

In the last minute, Torres shimmied his way through the Robins defence but hesitated before shooting, allowing Foderingham to make an easy save. The loose ball fell to Willian, but his shot was cleared off the line.
In the end, this was a very easy victory for the Blues.

There will be sterner tests ahead on the road to Wembley, but the League Cup is one of Jose Mourinho’s favourite trophies and there will be no question of him not taking the competition seriously by fielding an understrength side.

The fact is, as was witnessed Tuesday, there is no such thing as a weak Chelsea side, and this strength in depth will serve Mourinho well as the Blues' fixture list becomes more congested in the months ahead.

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