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Ba brace sinks Southampton

Julian Finney

Chelsea bounced back from the shock of losing at home to Queens Park Rangers, beginning their defence of the FA Cup in some style with a 5-1 win over Southampton at St. Mary's. The story, of course, was the debut of Demba Ba, and the Senegalese striker failed to disappoint, notching two goals and putting in an excellent shift in front of goal.

That said, the beginning of the match looked like it'd be more of the same from midweek. David Luiz and Ramires got the start in the double pivot (the supposedly-fit John Obi Mikel didn't even make the 18-man squad), and the passing from those two was fairly sloppy. That prevented Chelsea's more advanced players from getting into the match, giving us a disjointed, broken display.

And since the Blues had to work so hard to forge even the faintest hope of a chance, it came as absolutely no surprise that they were hit on the break. Demba Ba was left on the ground complaining about a foul from a throw in, but Mike Dean was having none of it as the Saints raced down their right. Branislav Ivanovic found himself unable to contain Jason Puncheon, and the former Blackpool man slipped in Jay Rodriguez, whose first touch took him past Gary Cahill before the second finished sweetly under Ross Turnbull.

Chelsea's reply was not exactly immediate, although it could have been had Ba not been penalised by a phantom foul while through on goal. But they slowly stepped things up as they adjusted to having a new focal point to their attack. Eden Hazard came reasonably close with a curling effort that skimmed just wide of Artur Boruc's left-hand post, but it was Juan Mata who more or less single-handedly hauled the Blues back into the match.

An aside: We don't appreciate Juan Mata enough. In his one and a bit seasons with Chelsea, he's at 25 goals and 36 assists (assuming I can add properly, which is perhaps not so good an assumption).

Fed by Hazard on the edge of the box, the Special Juan dodged an incoming challenge to bypass the defence. Suddenly finding himself free on goal, he launched a delicate chip which Boruc got a paw too but couldn't quite stop. The ball was probably going over the line regardless, but with Steven Davis tracking back and in a position to pull off a difficult clearance, Demba Ba stuck out a foot and made sure of the equaliser, tapping it into the roof of the net with quite probably the easiest Chelsea goal he'll ever score.

With the Blues level, the wind suddenly went out of Southampton's collective sails. The midfield settled down and the front four became increasingly influential, and it came as no surprise when Chelsea took the lead just before halftime. With the Saints' defence at sixes and sevens, an Ashley Cole cutback found Victor Moses at the top of the box and the winger (whom we'll miss quite a lot while he's on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Nigeria) smashed a lovely low drive into the bottom corner to make it 2-1.

The interval came and went without any change to the shape of the match. Chelsea had by now adapted to Ba's presence up front and were playing some of the best football we've seen this season. An admittedly under-strength Southampton side weren't playing particularly badly but found themselves completely overmatched, and Ivanovic dished out further pain when he nodded in an absolutely perfect Mata cross 52 minutes in.

At 3-1, the tie was over, and the only question left worth asking involved the number of goals the Saints defence would ship. Chelsea certainly weren't done after their three, and Ba was in a particularly frisky mood. The debutante made the next goal with some fantastic holdup play, his pass to Moses eventually leading to Hazard receiving possession on the other side of the box.

Then the other side of Ba's game showed up. He lost the defence with a lovely diagonal run, leaving Hazard with a simple pass and the Senegalese with an easy finish. Minutes later, he came within inches of a hattrick after peeling off towards the far post for Victor Moses to hit with a long cross, bringing out a desperate kick save from a now enormously pissed-off Boruc that just about saw the ball to safety.

Chelsea would go 5-1 up after Mike Dean randomly decided to award us a penalty after a not-handball at the top of the box, but by now Frank Lampard was on the field. With the midfielder just one goal away from matching Kerry Dixon as the club's 2nd-leading all-time scorer, there was no question as to who would take it, and he sent the goalkeeper the wrong way with a drilled effort just inside the post.

There was even time for Ross Turnbull to make a semi-heroic appearance. The hosts were pressing for another consolation goal, and it looked like they'd get it when Jos Hooiveld (I think? Maybe? Whatever) found himself open in the box. That reckoned without a great save from the backup goalkeeper, and the followup effort was blocked by Cahill. That was, more or less the last meaningful action of the match.

Chelsea are through to the 4th round of the FA Cup. More importantly, our new striker seems to have bedded in quite nicely. A decent enough trip to the coast, eh?

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