The time was January 2005, José Mourinho’s seventh month at Chelsea, and the fun times were only beginning. The Blues had tasted defeat just twice all season up to that point, both away, once shockingly in the Premier League to pre-money Manchester City and once in the Champions League in the meaningless final match of the group stage.
But for almost a full half, Chelsea were outplayed and were behind in the third round of the FA Cup to League Two Scunthorpe United, who had barely survived dropping completely out of the Football League the season before. In fairness, “Scunny” would go on to earn promotion to League One later that season, but that did not lessen the shock of their early lead and excellent first-half performance at Stamford Bridge.
Journeyman forward Paul Hayes, who’s still playing at age 34 after over 500 appearances in the three levels below the Premier League, staked the visitors into the lead in the 8th minute, and only a Kezman goal against the run of the play in the first and an unfortunate own goal in the second half allowed Chelsea to advance into the fourth round — Captain Gudjohnsen would add a third late to make sure though not before Scunthorpe missed several glorious chances and hit the post as well.
The Iron were only the fourth side up to that point all season to score on the Blues at home; an impressive feat in and of itself considering that Chelsea would set a record for fewest goals conceded in a Premier League season with 15, a record that might just be unbreakable. Commensurate with the level of the opposition, Mourinho had fielded a makeshift defensive line — Glen Johnson at right back, midfielder Alexei Smertin at center back next to 19-year-old Steven Watt making his debut in the first of two career Chelsea appearances, and midfielder Nuno Morais playing left back in one of his nine career appearances — and almost paid the price.
Never underestimate the Magic of the Cup™.
One of the people sitting in the visitors’ dugout that day was physio Nigel Adkins, who moved up to football management the following year.
“Brian Laws was the manager when we took on Chelsea. Jose Mourinho was in charge and Scunny actually went in front, Paul Hayes scored a wonderful goal, and for half an hour the magic of the FA Cup (was alive) and the Scunthorpe supporters were jumping up and down.
“Everyone had a smile on their faces. But, obviously, the class of the Chelsea team shone through in the end and they won the game. But it was still a great experience for everyone and one that we all enjoyed.”
Now Adkins is hoping that he can do one better than the near-miracle that day as he returns to the Bridge on Friday, this time in charge of injury-ravaged Hull City, having replaced Abramovich-pal Leonid Slutsky a couple months ago.
“You don’t get anywhere near it but you can always dream. Now, here we are in the fifth round. It is going to be a tough game, we know that. But what a challenge to take on, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.”
Adkins has actually been back to the Bridge since that Scunthorpe match, earning a 2-2 draw with Southampton five years ago. Despite that result, he was sacked two days later and replaced by Mauricio Pochettino. So maybe he’s got some Magic due to come his way?
“We have got to believe it is possible. We need the magic of the Cup – in fact, we need a lot of magic! – because, let’s face it, Chelsea are a top side.”
-Nigel Adkins; source: Yorkshire Post
Antonio Conte is expected to rotate his squad, though he’s not one to go as buck-wild as Mourinho did that day 13 years ago. Still, Chelsea will have to pay great attention, as Conte likes to say. The last thing we need before Barcelona on Tuesday is a silly defeat on Friday.