U's give Blues the fright of their lives

Chelsea 3 Colchester United 1COLCHESTER United played their hearts out and gave English champions Chelsea the fright of their lives in a dramatic FA Cup fifth-round tie, staged under the glare of the Sky TV cameras at Stamford Bridge yesterday afternoon.

By Carl Marston

Chelsea 3 Colchester United 1

COLCHESTER United played their hearts out and gave English champions Chelsea the fright of their lives in a dramatic FA Cup fifth-round tie, staged under the glare of the Sky TV cameras at Stamford Bridge yesterday afternoon.

The fearless U's, the minnows of League One, visibly shook Jose Mourinho's men by taking the lead via Ricardo Carvalho's own goal in the 28th minute.

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It was a memorable moment for the 6,000 travelling Colchester supporters. Richard Garcia exchanged a one-two with Greg Halford before delivering a cross into the danger zone, which Portuguese defender Carvalho diverted into his own net. Chris Iwelumo was waiting behind him, ready to pounce.

For a split-second the yellow-and-blue-decked U's fans, who were stationed at the other end of the pitch, struggled to take in the enormity of the situation. Delirium then ensued.

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And it was no more than Colchester deserved for a fantastic first-half display. They had already rattled the woodwork, with Mark Yeates' 22nd minute snap shot hitting the far post, before taking the lead.

It was a shame that Phil Parkinson's men could not hold onto until half-time. Alas, the U's defence failed to cope with Damien Duff's 37th minute corner, enabling Paulo Ferreira to sweep home the equaliser from close range.

Mourinho, though, was seriously worried. He might not have admitted it at the post-match press conference, but was forced into making an unscheduled double substitution at half-time, with England midfielders Joe Cole and Frank Lampard thrown into the fray. The Chelsea boss even felt the need to introduce his third and final substitute, in the shape of Hernan Crespo, with still nearly half-an-hour to play. The changes paid dividends, but it's all credit to Colchester that the big-money Londoners had to change their game-plan.

The Essex visitors, who are gunning for promotion from League One, held on against wave-upon-wave of attacks until just 11 minutes from time.

Two of the substitutes then combined to nudge Chelsea ahead. Aidan Davison, who had made some stupendous saves, could not hold onto Crespo's stinging shot, and Cole tucked home the loose ball to put the Blues 2-1 up.

It was a little cruel on the U's to then concede a third goal in injury-time, Cole blasting an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net from outside the box. It was a goal that oozed quality.

But Cole's late strike failed to take the gloss off what was a memorable afternoon for the fans, officials and players of Colchester United. Chelsea might be in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, but the U's can return to Essex with their heads held high.

Promotion to the Championship remains the priority, but they will never forget the day that they ruffled the feathers of the multi-millionaires from Stamford Bridge.

The U's supporters thoroughly enjoyed their big day out in the capital. They cheered their players throughout the pre-match warm-up, and released thousands of yellow balloons when the two teams ran out onto the pitch.

What they didn't want was to suffer a heavy defeat, without a fight, and there was in fact a heart-stopping moment after just four minutes when Davison scuffed his attempted clearance straight to Shaun Wright-Phillips. The England winger homed in on goal, but Davison made amends by blocking the goalbound shot.

The U's threatened first in the 11th minute. Yeates pounced onto Halford's lay-off and tried his luck with a 20-yard drive that flew well wide of Carlo Cudicini's goal.

A minute later and there was a roar from the away fans when defender Robert Huth sliced his clearance behind his own goal, while attempting to deal with Halford's cross, to signal the U's first corner of the game. Michael Essien intercepted the ensuing corner from Kevin Watson.

United were certainly not over-awed and the Stamford Bridge faithful held their breath when Garcia burst clear onto Halford's long throw in the 18th minute. The Australian had a chance to shoot, but he chose to cross with power instead, enabling Huth to turn the ball away.

Garcia was in the action again shortly afterwards, this time smashing a 25-yarder only a foot over the bar.

Only the woodwork denied Colchester taking a dramatic lead in the 22nd minute. Yeates met Karl Duguid's low cross with a thunderous volley that thudded back off the far post and rolled to safety. That was a lucky escape for Chelsea.

The Blues were rocked, as was illustrated by left-back Glen Johnson's stray pass that rolled straight out of play without a team-mate in sight. A minute later and Maniche followed suit with a wayward ball.

And Mourinho's men knew that they had a game on their hands when fearless Colchester, via Carvalhio's own goal, took the lead on 28 minutes.

The Premiership hosts tried to respond quickly and Davison had to be at his best to palm away Ferreira's angled drive, within a minute of the opening goal. Davison was again a match for Ferreira in the 32nd minute, this time smothering the Portuguese defender's goalbound drive, which came at him through a sea of legs.

The U's spurned a chance to double their lead in the 34th minute. Ferreira was booked for chopping down Yeates, and the Blues could only half-clear Watson's ensuing free-kick. The ball fell kindly for Halford, but he snatched at his shot from just 15 yards out.

Pat Baldwin, who was released by Chelsea in 2002, having come up through their youth ranks, enjoyed stopping livewire Wright-Phillips in his tracks with a superb tackle. That denied the former Manchester City winger a genuine chance to equalise.

However, the U's did concede an equaliser in the 37th minute. Carvalho nodded on Damien Duff's corner and Ferreira reacted smartly to sweep home from close-in.

Despite this setback, the visitors continued to press and Garcia earned them a free-kick in a promising position on 40 minutes. Halford's low drive beat the defensive wall, but did not seriously trouble Cudicini.

Mourinho must have been a worried man, because he felt the need to make a double change at the interval. Midfielders Maniche and Lassana Diarra were both withdrawn, to be replaced by Lampard and Cole, a handy double act!

The immediate result was that Chelsea took a grip of possession. Lampard began to dictate matters and he released Wright-Phillips with a well-weighted pass, only for the imperious Wayne Brown to cut out the final cross.

The U's relieved the pressure with a rare breakaway in the 52nd minute. Yeates swung over a measured cross and Garcia scooped his shot over the bar. The former West Ham attacker had looked dangerous all afternoon.

Didier Drogba was kept quiet for most of the match. The Ivory Coast striker did threaten in the 58th minute, but he failed to hit the target with his close-range header from Duff's exquisite cross.

Mourinho played his final card just after the hour mark by introducing striker Crespo for winger Duff. The Argentine was to play a big part in winning the game for Chelsea.

Davison pulled off a terrific save in the 65th minute. Cole scampered through the middle of the park, eluding the despairing tackle of Halford before drilling in a fierce shot that the U's keeper clawed away at full stretch.

It was then Crespo's turn to be denied by Davison. The Blues substitute latched on to Wright-Phillips' cross and turned to crack in a shot that United's No. 1 brilliantly blocked, with Baldwin shepherding the loose ball behind for a corner.

Finally, and with just 11 minutes on the clock, Chelsea took the lead for the first time in the game. Davison blocked but could not cling onto Crespo's shot, and the alert Cole was on hand to slot into the net from six yards out.

The U's tried in vain to find a response. Halford rammed an 86th minute free-kick into the defensive wall, and Chris Iwelumo missed his kick at the far post. In the last minute of normal time, Halford flashed a cross along the face of the six-yard box, but it was too strong for a team-mate to apply the finishing touch.

Cole guaranteed Chelsea's progression into the last eight with a wonder third goal in the first minute of stoppage time. The former West Ham midfielder curled a 20-yard shot beyond a static Davison and into the roof of the net.

The U's were finally beaten. But they had taken the Premiership champions to the wire. They can be proud of their efforts on this unforgettable day.

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