Alexandre Pato 'finally stepped up' for Chelsea vs. Aston Villa - Guus Hiddink
BIRMINGHAM -- Guus Hiddink hailed the day that Alexandre Pato "finally stepped up" after the Brazilian came off the bench to mark his first Chelsea appearance with a goal in a 4-0 win over Aston Villa.
Pato replaced the injured Loic Remy on 23 minutes, making his Blues debut more than two months after arriving on loan at Stamford Bridge in what Hiddink described as "preseason" condition at the end of January.
The attacker's every touch was greeted by ironic cheers from the travelling Chelsea supporters at Villa Park but he made a decisive impact on the stroke of half-time, firing a penalty beyond Brad Guzan after Aly Cissokho had hauled him down in the area.
Pato's 63-day wait for a first-team opportunity even became the subject of a spoof website set up by Chelsea supporters, but after Saturday's match at Hiddink insisted that he could not have picked the forward any sooner.
"He was counting down the days, and knocking on the door," Hiddink told BT Sport. "He was in preseason and I could have brought him on after 14 days or three weeks but it would have been irresponsible.
"He was not strong enough to battle in the league. This is a strong league and he would have been killed at that time. We took the time and he also had to deal with the competition -- Traore, etc -- but he finally stepped up."
January signing Matt Miazga and academy product Jake Clarke-Salter also made their Chelsea debuts in the win, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek continued his development with a first Premier League goal to open the scoring at Villa Park.
"For Ruben it's also important not just to play a half or 60 minutes, but gather the substance of the Premier League," Hiddink added.
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.