Chelsea cash in on Cardiff woes
With the watertight bubble that lulled football's money men into believing they were immune from the worldwide recession exploding in sinister fashion in recent months, this weekend's FA Cup fifth round matches are akin to benefit concerts for clubs in the mire.
Portsmouth's high profile demise may yet prove to be one of the big sporting stories of the year unless they find a sugar daddy with a bit of spare change to bail them out of their monstrous financial hole, yet fellow FA Cup contestants Crystal Palace, Notts County and Cardiff City are also in the category of institutions on the brink of meltdown.
Cardiff have been trying to avoid a winding up order from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs over the last few days and, in truth, sympathy should to be in short supply for chairmen who run their clubs to the edge of a perilous cliff as they are to blame for their own misfortune.
The irony is that the side Cardiff were taking on here at Stamford Bridge were themselves among those fearing for their future not so long ago. Former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates does not like people to remind the world that the Chelsea FC he sold to Roman Abramovich back in 2003 was close to crashing under a mountain of toxic debt, yet the lessons of such near misses have been ignored by businessmen whose lurid ambition has got in the way of common sense.
A majority of the Cardiff fans packed into Stamford Bridge's Shed End for this FA Cup adventure were uninterested in the financial strife their club currently finds itself in and yet Pompey's ongoing crisis has to be the defining warning for a game that should not tolerate such reckless malpractice with 'brands' that mean so much to so many.
Cardiff boss Dave Jones is being affected by his club's current woes as his inability to strengthen his side as they strive to claim the Premier League place that could be their salvation is restrictive. The manager who miraculously took Cardiff to the 2008 FA Cup Final against a deluded Portsmouth deserves so much more.
In these times of despair, footballers are required to shed the image of being mercenaries lacking passion for the clubs paying them vast wages each week and the efforts of the Cardiff side at Stamford Bridge suggested those sporting the Bluebirds shirts had plenty of pride in their work.
When Didier Drogba fired Chelsea ahead after some woeful Cardiff defending less than two minutes into this game, you could have been forgiven for fearing this would be a massacre that would merely serve to highlight the Welsh side's difficulties and yet they refused to lie down and die.
Putting pressure on the FA Cup holders and showing little fear, Gabor Gyepes and Tony Gerrard went close to finding an equaliser before Michael Chopra breached Chelsea's defences with a 33rd minute header that stunned the home supporters in the Matthew Harding stand.
With Blues skipper John Terry away on compassionate leave trying to build bridges with his wife in Dubai, stand-in Alex can take much of the blame for allowing Chopra to stroll unchallenged into the box and head past keeper Hilario.
Another piece of woeful defending saw Chelsea concede and the scenes of delight among the vast hoard of travelling Cardiff fans was a sight to behold.
The FA Cup has attracted plenty of cynics as it has slipped down the priority list for the top clubs in recent years, yet the additional tickets set aside for visiting supporters gives a day like this some extra sparkle. Such vociferous vocal backing should also serve to inspire the underdogs and as Cardiff started the second half, they had genuine hopes of eliminating the last remaining member of the Premier League's top four from the competition.
However, lower league sides tend to crack when the giants sprinkle a moment of magic in their direction and it was Drogba who again proved to be their undoing as his delectable through ball prized open the Cardiff defence six minutes into the second half, with Michael Ballack keeping his cool to restore Chelsea's lead.
When Daniel Sturridge made it 3-1 after 69 minutes, this game was over as a contest and Kalou's header four minutes from time concluded what had turned into a comfortable win for Carlo Ancelotti's team.
"We want to win three trophies this season if possible and make no excuses for setting our targets so high," said Chelsea assistant boss Ray Wilkins. "Cardiff made it tough for us in this game and we had to fight hard to get through, but it was a comfortable afternoon in the end.
"It's a tribute to the professionalism of players like Drogba and Frank Lampard that they continue to perform at their best against a side we are expected to beat comfortably. This was another good Chelsea performance."
Cardiff boss Dave Jones seemed content with his team's efforts, despite the comfortable nature of the final scoreline. "We didn't come here merely intent on avoiding a battering as that is not our way, but you can get undone when you come up against the touch of quality they have here," said Jones. "They had some big guns to throw at us and my lads didn't disgrace themselves.
"Chelsea are top of the Premier League and my lads matched them for long periods, but the little mistakes we made cost us. Now we can focus on the prime target which has always been promotion."
You can only hope Jones' aim to take Cardiff back into the big time is not hampered by the incompetence of those who should be supporting his efforts. Like so many managers working for clubs suffering from cash flow issues, a degree in business may well be a more useful tool than the coaching skills they are being employed to offer. Some football clubs, it seems, are intent on a mission of self-destruction.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Didier Drogba. The Chelsea striker was a cut above everyone else on the field and his invention and finish was the difference between the two sides.
SHOWING RESPECT: Cardiff supporters are often forced to deal with plenty of criticism for their behaviour on the road, but they stood in unison to join in a minute of applause for a deceased Chelsea hero prior to kick off. It was an impressive response. However, there were reports of serious trouble outside the ground after the game.
CARDIFF VERDICT: The visitors emerged from the first half of this game with credit, but offered little to trouble the FA Cup favourites after the break. They can now focus on getting into the Premier League.
CHELSEA VERDICT: This was a comfortable victory for the Blues once they scored their second goal. The curiously below par display of Joe Cole must be a concern and he was replaced at half-time. Ray Wilkins confirmed his removal at the break was not due to an injury.