Football Commentary / FA Cup Semi-Final: Bridge bunch live up to Hoddle's hunch: Luton lack the inspiration that undermined other Premiership sides as Chelsea continue prosaic progress to the final

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The Independent Online
IT WAS hardly the most handsome expression of fraternal esteem, but Glenn Hoddle said he knew it was going to be Chelsea's year in the FA Cup back in January, when they came up against his brother, Carl.

Even born-again zealots are allowed to believe in fate, it seems, and football's great revivalist predicted at the turn of the year that Chelsea would get to Wembley if they were paired with Carl's Barnet in the third round.

When the balls duly appeared in the right order - 'Barnet' intoned Graham Kelly, ' will play Chelsea' - Hoddle's excitement was such that he fell off his hotel bed.

The Shed's blue hordes were rather less optimistic when it took a replay to see off Carl and company, but the draw has continued to be kind, and Chelsea have needed to overcome just one Premiership team, Sheffield Wednesday, in making it all come to pass.

The last obstacle was brushed aside on Saturday, when little Luton Town ran out of slingshots and were left flailing feebly in the grip of Goliath's overpowering muscularity.

Chelsea won 2-0, it could easily have been more and what had promised to be an intriguing semi- final was instead routine stuff for the favourites. Hardly the magic of the Cup.

Chelsea were stronger, in the air and on the ground, faster to, and more assertive in, the tackle, and had, in Gavin Peacock, a finisher who operates on a different plane from Luton's cut-price assortment.

The First Division has enjoyed memorable success against the Premiership this season, and Luton often played the better, more composed football on Saturday. This time, though, the big battalions carried the day.

Hoddle arrived at Stamford Bridge last summer full of good intentions, but sophistication, and the sweeper system were casualties in a welter of defeats, and it took good old 4-4-2 to rescue the new manager from the sort of season known to stretch Ken Bates' patience to breaking point.

Luton, in contrast, responded to a dodgy start by embracing the midfield 'diamond' David Pleat did so much to popularise in his Tottenham days. Unfortunately for the uncommitted, who were looking for a more even contest, the diamond which dazzled Newcastle United and West Ham was fragmented by a power drill in the four-square shape of Eddie Newton, and the outcome was never in doubt after the 13th- minute goal which was a microcosm of all Luton's problems.

Tony Cascarino, such a blunt instrument at top level that he has been offered a free transfer, was playing only because Mark Stein was injured. Unwanted or not, Cascarino's height and strength was too much for a moderate First Division defence and, in winning everything in the air and using possession with sensible economy, he led the line with the sort of authority for which Luton looked, in vain, to Kerry Dixon.

Cascarino it was who won the important first header to set up the opening goal, transferring a long free-kick from Frank Sinclair on, via the scuttling John Spencer, to Peacock, who scored with a precise, left-foot shot from 10 yards.

Luton were staggered, and never really recovered. They passed the ball around nicely, but always in front of a resolute back four, whose only real moment of concern came when Dixon's early shot was smothered by Dimitri Kharin on the edge of his six-yard box.

Chelsea were strong and eager, but predictable enough for Pleat to feel at half-time that the tie could still be turned around. Wrong, mid- point optimism was to survive just three minutes in the second half. Then Cascarino won yet another header and Peacock exchanged passes with Spencer before beating Jurgen Sommer from near the penalty spot.

At 2-0 that was that. With Dixon isolated in attack, Luton were neither strong, nor clever enough to inconvenience Erland Johnsen and Jakob Kjeldbjerg, the Special Air Service easily repelling all intruders.

The second half was dying on its feet when a male streaker 'treated' us to a full frontal assault. Had Luton done likewise, who knows, but the die was cast by the time they sent on John Hartson to support Dixon, and Peacock would have had his hat-trick but for a one- handed save from Sommer, leaping to his left.

Chelsea's supporters, clearly in the majority in a near-60,000 crowd pumped up the volume, but it was all too easy to be anything other than anticlimactic.

Pleat had no complaints, with results or score. Chelsea had been 'the stronger team' he said. They had 'defended capably' and scored two 'superb' goals at 'critical times'.

What would his younger players have learned from the experience? 'They now know that to play in the Premier League week in, week out, you need to be skilful, but you need to be strong as well. Sometimes, in the challenges, we came second'.

Hoddle said he had been much impressed by two 'excellent finishes' from Peacock, who was proving 'a tremendous buy' at pounds 1.25m from Newcastle.

Newton, Spencer and Dennis Wise were not far behind the scorer in the managerial ratings, having 'held the team together when we weren't playing so well.'

Chelsea were looking forward to another visit to Wembley next month, for 'the big one', and would be making the short journey in confident mood.

'I've felt that it was our year since the third round,' Hoddle said. 'You just get a hunch. I've had strong feelings all along, but kept them to myself until now. I've been a winner at every club I've had, and my sights are set.'

He may need to raise them a little. After Barnet, Oxford, Wolves and Luton, there is only the big one left.

Goals: Peacock (13) 1-0, Peacock (48) 2-0.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Kharin; Clarke, Johnsen, Kjeldbjerg, Sinclair; Newton, Burley (Barnard 42), Wise, Peacock; Cascarino, Spencer. Substitues not used: Donaghy, Hitchcock (gk).

Luton Town (4-5-1): Sommer; Linton (Hartson 66), Peake, Dreyer, James; Harper, Telfer, Preece, Hughes, Oakes; Dixon. Substitues not used: Thomas, Petterson (gk).

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley.

(Photograph omitted)