The Blues led as early as the fifth minute, 20-year-old striker Daniel Sturridge staking his claim to fill the void left by African Cup of Nations absentee Didier Drogba by converting from six yards out after the visitors had failed to clear a Frank Lampard corner.
The second goal had a hint of farce but was just reward for Chelsea’s dominance. Joe Cole had volleyed Malouda’s cross into the Watford penalty area and triggered an extraordinary game of pinball. The ball cannoned between Adrian Mariappa, Frank Lampard and Scott Loach before finally bouncing off John Eustace for an own-goal. There was also a slice of luck about Chelsea’s third goal when Yuri Zhirkov’s shot deflected off Malouda and beyond Loach. But then Lampard scored a cracker from outside the penalty area and Sturridge calmly converted Ashley Cole’s cross for his second to seal an emphatic win.
The home side conjured 10 corners in the opening half-hour, and three goals within the first 22 minutes. Watford were spikier thereafter, but, by then, they could play with the freedom of a condemned side. Their defending hardly improved at any point.
Whilst it’s easy enough to be smart with the benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult to remember a Watford squad as ill-equipped to handle a match like this. That’s not a comment intended to downplay the very great achievements of the squad this season… but any recipe for a cup upset against any senior opposition (let alone the league leaders) really does demand a bit of physical presence and a bit of pace, and we have neither – quite apart from the superior quality, each Chelsea player was a good three inches and half a stone bigger than their opposite number. Our biggest asset (minus the sorely missed Helguson) is the movement and interplay of our midfield, but Chelsea are far more used to this sort of thing than our regular opponents and more adept at dealing with it.
We’ve seen some awful cup performances in recent years (in stark contrast to one era in our history in particular). But this was a particularly disconcerting flavour of awful. Lots of possession, very little penetration, an incomprehensible retraction back to a lone striker once we got ahead… it all felt a bit Vialli again somehow.
More games from 3rd January at https://oldwatford.com/tag/jan3
This was astonishing. I mean, it was many things, and you can find a convenient list under “magnificent” in your thesaurus. But it was astonishing, first and foremost. There will be some comments about how the performance throws the rest of our under-achieving season into sharp relief, but they’ll miss the point. The point being that we could not possibly have expected eleven players to over-achieve in such an extraordinary manner. Not to that extent. Not for that long. Way beyond “spirited”, this was a brief and tenuous, but very real, bridging of that impossible gulf. It happened. Even more remarkably, it happened for ninety minutes.
BSAD: During the summer, a Watford-supporting friend and I met a Charlton fan at a football tournament. Mindful of the rollercoaster of excitement, the season of bloodying Premiership noses that was to come we asked how he’d enjoyed the previous term. “Awful” he told us, “I hated every minute of it. Turning up knowing we were going to lose, realising that the game was over as soon as we went behind, that all of these narrow defeats weren’t just bad luck, that we’d have lost them all by one goal if we’d played them a hundred times”. We were incredulous at his lack of bravado. Then. But his words came back to me on the long walk back to the car from Pride Park, and not for the first time. Cold, wet, thoroughly depressed, the funeral procession pace dictated by my brother’s crutches was very appropriate. Just how much more misery does this season have to offer?