Peter Clarke, a hitherto relatively unknown central defender, yesterday scored the goal that accelerated a little more the unravelling of Chelsea's season and Luiz Felipe Scolari's grip on his job as manager. Another fixture is not what Chelsea require right now. However they were relieved, and Scolari admitted as much, given their faltering progress at home, that they travel to Roots Hall a week on Wednesday to try to rectify this embarrassing slip against a League One side.
"Are we out?" Scolari bridled when questioned about the paucity of the performance. "We did not win but other teams that lost today are out." True enough. But had another header by Clarke, minutes before his injury-time strike, on his 27th birthday no less, looped into the net, rather than on to the crossbar, then the unthinkable would have happened.
Chelsea, having exited the Carling Cup at home to Burnley, would have left this competition too. "We were unlucky we didn't win it," smiled the Southend manager, Steve Tilson. "No, I'm only joking." Really? But then the FA Cup has been a graveyard for Chelsea managers in the past. Last season, Avram Grant lost to Barnsley, away, and it was that result that all but ended his chances of remaining in charge.
Scolari bemoaned the missing of chances – and sure in the first-half there were plenty spurned, by Didier Drogba in particular – but quite where he got his "15 chances" wasted from was questionable. New blood is needed while Scolari still professes, publically at least, that he does not need a new striker. "I have strikers," he said, "many strikers". It sounded like a party line.
Maybe all this detracts too much from Southend's achievement. Low on confidence, they arrived in a far more timorous mood than their garish yellow strip and exuberant, 6,000-strong support demanded. It looked like shooting fish in a barrel as Joe Cole skipped around the defenders, Drogba brushed them aside and, just after the half-hour Salomon Kalou was left unchallenged, without having to move or even jump, to head home Frank Lampard's corner.
Chelsea's control was total. But not their concentration. Slowly, slowly the Shrimpers stopped shrinking and a turning point came when Johnny Herd hacked Juliano Belletti's header off the goal-line. It felt as if Chelsea started to settle for a single goal and, with that, Tilson sensed something. He made a bold, triple substitution while his players, the indefatigable Clarke in particular, continually threw themselves in front of challenges, before Herd hoisted a lob into the Chelsea area and Carlo Cudicini, lacking courage to impose himself, flapped. Clarke headed on to the bar.
It seemed that was it but Southend kept going. Herd scurried over to the other flank, sent in a long throw and Ricardo Carvalho inadvertently flicked it on for Clarke to thump home a header at the far post. It sparked delirious scenes but it wasn't over yet. Chelsea poured forward and a final opportunity fell to substitute Franco Di Santo. He should have headed home but allowed goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall the chance to also be a hero. He took it by tipping the ball away and preserving a precious, priceless replay.
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Man of the match: Clarke
Match rating: 6/10