LONDON // In the end it was all easy enough. Eventually Chelsea swatted away the challenge of Brentford of League One to progress to the fifth round of the FA Cup for the 13th time in the past 14 seasons, and an uneasy truce hangs over Stamford Bridge.
The club captain John Terry was included despite reports in a Sunday tabloid newspaper of a bust-up between Rafa Benitez and Terry after the manager reportedly singled out the former England captain for criticism following the 3-2 defeat at Newcastle United two weeks ago. The club made a point of denying the story, saying there is nothing amiss in Terry's relationship with his manager.
Benitez's relationship with Chelsea fans, meanwhile, has slipped into a frosty familiarity. There were the usual chants for Roberto Di Matteo after 16 minutes and the latest in a series of predictable banners. A fan near the press box held up an A3 sheet on which he had scrawled "Rafa - worst manager since Mr A took over. Fact. Benitez out".
It seemed to sum up the general atmosphere: the fan had bothered to do something to register his protest, but appeared not to have spent more than about five minutes on it.
There was little chance of Roman Abramovich, seated on the other side of the ground with his son - who seemed to be sporting a David Luiz haircut - being able to read it, let alone acting on it.
And there in the crowd, glowering uncomfortably, was a reminder of managerial haplessness past, Avram Grant. Was it a warning of what might happen if Benitez leaves? A reminder of bleaker days? A promise of better things to come?
This is the conundrum of Chelsea: when there is no meaning issued from the top, when Abramovich's thoughts remain a mystery, all possibilities seem equally valid. His - or the club's - treatment of Frank Lampard is as puzzling as it ever was: there were broad grins from Abramovich as Lampard scored the third goal but his hands remained resolutely in the pockets of his Champions League jacket when the 34-year-old midfielder received a standing ovation as he was substituted nine minutes from time. An offer of a new contract for Lampard is seemingly as far off as it ever was, despite his superlative recent performances.
Benitez conceded that "Frank is on fire, and he's scoring lots of goals, and that's good for him and the team" and suggested he could finish the term with 15.
The coach had no explanation for a violent collision, in the final five minutes, between Luiz and Brentford's Jake Reeves, who seemed groggy and unsteady as he was led off the pitch.
Early on, Chelsea had missed enough chances, the Brentford goalkeeper Simon Moore making one superb save from a Demba Ba header, to make an upset conceivable. But they took the lead with a goal of overwhelming simplicity.
Petr Cech thumped a clearance long and, when Ba and Tony Craig jumped for it, the ball dropped to Juan Mata, who drilled in a low drive from 25 yards.
Once the dam was broken, Brentford were powerless to stop the flood: Oscar, who had earlier hit the post, flicked in a Branislav Ivanovic cross and Lampard side-footed in a Mata cutback before Terry himself headed the fourth from Oscar's looping delivery.
FA Cup quarter-final draw
Oldham Athletic/Everton v Wigan Athletic
Manchester City v Barnsley
Manchester United/Reading v Middlesbrough/Chelsea
Millwall v Blackburn Rovers
Ties to be played on the weekend of March 9 and 10.
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