NO MATTER how pretty the passing, how fluid the movement, or eye- catching the skill the decisive factor in winning football matches remains goalscoring. This was underlined once more at Stamford Bridge last night as the clinical finishing of Dwight Yorke proved the difference between Manchester United and Chelsea.
After three draws between these heavyweights this season, the Tobagan's 25th and 26th goals of the season won this FA Cup sixth-round replay despite Chelsea controlling possession for much of a high-tempo game. United now go to Villa Park for a record 22nd FA Cup semi-final. Their opponents, on Sunday, 11 April, will be Arsenal, the other member of this season's dominant triumvirate.
It is the fourth time in six seasons that United have beaten Chelsea in the FA Cup but the Londoners only have themselves to blame. They had 16 efforts on goal; United had four.
"We controlled the game, we created lots of chances, but it was one of those days when we were not going to score," said Gianluca Vialli, the Chelsea manager. "I thought we played really well. The team are really down now but we still have a lot to look forward to in the season."
"Yorke's finishing won it for us," said Alex Ferguson. "Once we got the second goal we were in control, but it was tight until then."
The United manager then paid tribute to Yorke, a pounds 12m signing in August.
"He has been the outstanding footballer of the season for me, from any club.
"I don't know what more you can say about him. He has the courage to play and the ability to go with it. He plays with a smile on his face and has blossomed at Old Trafford. He scores important goals and his temperament is excellent."
Yorke's opening goal, after just three minutes, stunned Chelsea; his second, after 58, killed off their hopes of a revival just as it appeared they may earn an equaliser. But he was not the only United hero last night. There was also a masterly display of goalkeeping from the rejuvenated Peter Schmeichel.
The best save, however, came from the unfortunate Tore Andre Flo. Without a goal since Boxing Day, the Norwegian exacerbated his plight by inadvertently blocking a Dennis Wise shot almost on the line with the score at 1-0.
He could hardly have made a bigger error. The magnitude of the game had been evident from the thicket of ticket touts outside Fulham Broadway underground station, dealing with impunity despite the heavy police presence. Those supporters who were still negotiating when the match kicked off were robbed twice, for they also missed the opening goal.
Having failed to break down a 10-man Chelsea on Sunday, United included Yorke and Andy Cole from the start last night and they quickly made an impact. United, attacking from the start, won a flurry of free-kicks, one of which was taken by David Beckham. Franck Leboeuf met it but only headed upwards. When the ball came down Cole was underneath. He steered it to Yorke, who volleyed the ball in with contemptuous ease.
Chelsea, surprised at United's early assault, were hesitant, their uncertainty showing in Roberto Di Matteo being caught in possession and Celestine Babayaro failing to control a simple pass. But United, too, felt the pressure of the occasion and Paul Scholes mis-hit a clearance over his own goal-line. This led to the first of many shots from Jody Morris, all of which Schmeichel saved.
The Dane also had to be alert to deny Gianfranco Zola, after Di Matteo put him through, and Flo, after the little Italian had released him down the centre. Either side of half-time Chelsea pressed in vain, with the home crowd's frustration reaching a peak when, after a sweeping move involving, Zola, again, Di Matteo and Morris, Flo blocked Wise's far-post shot from Babayaro's teasing cross.
Three minutes later Yorke clinched the tie. A long ball from Henning Berg seemed to carry little threat but Graeme Le Saux's mis-hit clearance sent it into the danger area. Cole won the ball ahead of Marcel Desailly, it rolled to Yorke who produced an impudent chip from 25 yards which floated over Ed De Goey and nestled in the net. The ground fell briefly silent, Chelsea supporters quiet with horror, United's hushed in awe.
Morris and Bernard Lambourde both missed good chances to cut the deficit but even their profligacy was surpassed as Mikkel Forssell, on as substitute, froze after beating the offside trap and was smothered by Schmeichel.
Chelsea continued to strain for a goal but Ferguson already had his mind on future challenges and he withdrew Cole and Yorke.
A unique European and domestic treble remains in United's reach; Chelsea have just two trophies to chase. It could be a lot, lot worse, but that will be of little consolation to Vialli's team and their followers this morning.
Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Lambourde, Desailly, Leboeuf (Myers, h-t), Le Saux; Wise, Morris,(Goldbaek, 70) Di Matteo, Babayaro; Zola, Flo (Forssell, 70). Substitutes not used: Newton, Hitchcock (gk).
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Berg, Stam, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs (Blomqvist, 74); Cole (P Neville, 70), Yorke (Solskjaer, 84). Substitutes not used: Brown, Van der Gouw (gk).
Referee: P Durkin (Portland).Reuse content