The FA Cup is generally viewed as the event in which smaller clubs have the best chance of competing with and occasionally upsetting top Premier League contenders.
Nevertheless, in most previous seasons, a matchup of Scunthorpe United vs. Chelsea in London would have generated very little interest. By name alone it’s a David vs. Goliath contest, to be sure. But given the well-documented struggles of this season’s Chelsea side in losing to inferior opponents, there was at least a slight suspicion among many that anything was possible on Sunday. We even bothered to write a bit about how the Iron could secure a respectable result!
And if this match had happened a few weeks ago instead of on January 10, it seems that we may well have come away with just such a result. Chelsea was truly an absolute mess under José Mourinho for the first half of the domestic season, demonstrating week in and week out that their lineup of world-class footballers just wasn’t interested in high-level football.
Unfortunately for Scunthorpe, however, January’s version of the same Chelsea club appears to be significantly more motivated. Betfair’s match preview pointed out on Friday that with the previous week’s win over Crystal Palace, interim manager Guus Hiddink had actually guided the Blues to their longest unbeaten streak of the season thus far—incredibly, just four matches. It was also mentioned that Diego Costa has scored as often under Hiddink as he did the whole first half of the season under Mourinho.
In other words, bad luck for us. The front office at Stamford Bridge seemed for quite some time content to let Mourinho whine his way to the relegation zone. But in the absence of “The Special One,” the Blues have already improved rather dramatically, even if it will take months for them to make much of a climb in the standings. And this is the club we ran into on Sunday at Stamford Bridge: still licking its wounds but playing with renewed energy, pride, and, oddly, nothing to lose.
Things got off to a poor start for Scunthorpe when Costa converted a cross from Branislav Ivanovic just 13 minutes into the match. It was unfortunately just the sort of start Chelsea needed to get the supporters at Stamford Bridge involved (surely at this point they’d become used to fearing the worst). However, it’s not as if a rout was on after this early concession by the Iron. Indeed, Chelsea saw several additional chances throughout the first half, but as was pointed out in BBC Sport’s recap, Luke Daniels had an excellent outing in goal and kept things close throughout the match.
The best chance of our own probably came when Luke Williams nearly appeared to break through for a point-blank opportunity to close the first half. But he was ultimately stopped short and the score at halftime was held at 1-0 to Chelsea. The second half was a little bit less eventful. Not that the Blues necessarily seized control, but Scunthorpe never truly threatened again and Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s conversion in the 68th minute sealed the deal. The final was 2-0 and Chelsea moved on in the FA Cup, which may be the only place left for the Blues to achieve a true triumph this season (with little expected of them in the Champions League).
It was mildly deflating to see the Iron go down a goal so early on hostile ground, but through the majority of the match we acquitted ourselves rather well. There was no mistaking which was the more capable side, but we knew that going in. And while it’s difficult to take a moral victory from 2-0 loss, Scunthorpe competed hard against a defending Premier League champion showing a touch of resurgent form.