x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Chelsea give Hiddink FA Cup-winning send off

Chelsea recover from conceding the fastest goal in FA Cup final history to beat Everton at Wembley today.

John Terry, second left, and Frank Lampard hold up the FA Cup after Chelsea's final victory.
John Terry, second left, and Frank Lampard hold up the FA Cup after Chelsea's final victory.

It is becoming commonplace for Chelsea managers to take their leave, but rarely in such glorious fashion. With one clinical swing of his left foot, Frank Lampard delivered a magnificent winner at Wembley to hand Guus Hiddink a perfect farewell. Having arrived with a remit to spare Chelsea the ignominy of Europa League football, their fourth manager in two seasons departed with silverware in the sunshine and assured of the adulation of the club's supporters. They mounted a last desperate plea for him to change his mind, but the chorus of "we want him to stay" was in vain. Hiddink returns to his full-time job today, watching the Russian Cup final in preparation for the summer internationals, but he does so after adding the FA Cup to an extensive CV that already includes the European Cup and four Dutch Cups.

It is not often an interim regime will be remembered with such fondness. While Hiddink went out on a high, it had threatened to be the most anticlimactic of finales. The 128th FA Cup final witnessed the quickest goal, and it came from Everton. But Louis Saha put Chelsea in a familiar position. They had trailed to Southend, Watford and Arsenal in earlier rounds. Comebacks are something of a specialist subject and even a team as doughty as Everton were unable to prevent an equaliser.

Didier Drogba levelled and, when it seemed both teams were intent on extending Hiddink's stay in England for at least another 30 minutes, Lampard collected Nicolas Anelka's pass, turning inside Phil Neville and unleashing an unstoppable strike. It was a personal landmark, as he reached 20 goals for the fourth successive season, and a strike to savour. Lampard's excellence is taken for granted, but Chelsea's first goal was an indication of Hiddink's impact. It came from a combination of two players whose Chelsea careers have been revived by the Dutchman. Florent Malouda crossed and Drogba rose unchallenged to head past Tim Howard.

Drogba is Chelsea's resident Wembley specialist. Having already scored at the national stadium in the 2007 FA Cup final, the 2008 Carling Cup final and the semi-final success against Arsenal, there was a predictability about the identity of the scorer. It was fitting, too, that Malouda was the creator. The winger was tormenting Tony Hibbert, who was cautioned as early as the eighth minute, and the left wing already appeared the most profitable avenue for Chelsea. Although David Moyes acted decisively by removing Hibbert at the interval, Malouda maintained his threat and hit the crossbar with a thunderous shot shortly after Lampard's winner, with television replays indicating that the shot crossed the line.

Indeed, in a second half where Chelsea gradually asserted their superiority, a goal perhaps should have arrived sooner. Anelka, previously the quietest of Chelsea's front trio, made an angled run to meet Lampard's perceptive pass. The Frenchman's finish was a nonchalant flick that landed on the roof of the net, threatening brilliance without quite delivering. Another French forward had struck, and in remarkable fashion after just 25 seconds. Saha's nickname among his colleagues is "King Louis", so it is hard to imagine he could be held in much esteem. Nevertheless, this was a regal strike. When Steven Pienaar crossed the ball from the left, John Obi Mikel met it without clearing the ball. Marouane Fellaini headed it across, Saha struck a sweet half-volley. In the process, he did not just defeat the Chelsea goalkeeper, Petr Cech. He displaced a former Chelsea player, Roberto di Matteo, from the record books as the swiftest scorer.

Injured to the point of parody, the "man of balsa wood", as some Manchester United fans christened him, has spent much of the season on the sidelines or the bench. However, yesterday was littered with reminders what a fully fit Saha can do at his lithe, lethal best.

One such came when he met Leighton Baines' cross with a fine header that just cleared the crossbar. However, with Saha unable to complete the game and Everton's threadbare squad exposed, their 14-year wait for a trophy continues. Hiddink, in contrast, only required three months to strike silver.

rjolly@thenational.ae