Liverpool, officially the away team here yesterday, produced their wretched Anfield home form for too long before rallying to make a real contest of the FA Cup final. Chelsea, looking worthy winners for an hour or so, ended up hanging on and hugely relieved that Andy Carroll's late header was ruled not to have crossed the line. Two teams who had scored 35 goals between them in reaching Wembley managed only one in a dull first half, from Ramires, before the encounter came to life. Didier Drogba became the first player to score in four finals but Carroll, sent on as a substitute, brought Liverpool into contention by halving the lead and almost equalising.
Midfielders Jay Spearing and Jordan Henderson did not produce enough on the day and Steven Gerrard was strangely deep when his role required him to support Luis Suarez, the lone forward until Carroll appeared just after the hour. Chelsea were comfortable in defence until the later stages and had a warrior's performance from Drogba as usual at Wembley, well supported by the elegant Juan Mata and a hard-working Frank Lampard.
Having denied Liverpool a domestic cup double, they now face the Champions' League final in Munich where they must secure an "away" victory to prevent joining yesterday's opponents in the Europa League next season. Kenny Dalglish's take on yesterday was: "We were excellent for the last half hour but the game lasts 90 minutes. You can't give a two-goal start a team of Chelsea's quality. They're in the Champions' League final and they know how to win games."
His opposite number, Roberto Di Matteo, said: "I'm really happy for the players because we've been heavily criticised this season. They pressed hard in thesecond half but we defended well after scoring two good goals."
Chelsea started more brightly and as Dalglish admitted were the better team for just over an hour, during which they scored twice. Liverpool did not feature as an attacking force before falling behind in the 11th minute, when three of their players were culpable, starting with the local boy Spearing, who lost possession to prompt a swift counter. Mata sent Ramires down the right to outpace Jose Enrique and instead of a chip like the one that stunned Barcelona, the Brazilian went for power at the near post, where Jose Reina was beaten as no experienced goalkeeper should be. Reina has admitted to a poor season and that was one of its least distinguished moments.
There was one threat of reprisals, quickly enough to encourage Liverpool but not built on. Glen Johnson, once of Chelsea, broke down the right and crossed superbly, Branislav Ivanovic headed away only as far as Craig Bellamy, and had to block the fierce shot as the red hordes appealed for handball. Chelsea played the ball around more comfortably, their confidence reflected by both Drogba and Lampard taking on shots from 35 yards. To Reina's relief, each drifted wide. He was grateful too to Martin Skrtel for preventing Salomon Kalou wriggling through to shoot and to Lampard for failing to control Kalou's pass with an errant first touch when he would have been clear.
Liverpool players bringing the ball out of defence tended to look up and see nothing but Suarez and a crop of blue shirts, and the Uruguayan's body language suggested he did not think much of it. Carroll must have been itching to get on from an early stage and there would have been strong temptation for Dalglish to introduce him from the start of the second half, which he resisted until the second goal went in seven minutes after the restart. John Obi Mikel began the move by finding Lampard, who turned away from his marker Spearing and played the ball down the inside left channel for Drogba. Neither Johnson nor Skrtel were close enough to him and the shot with his left foot went through the latter's legs and across Reina low into the far corner.
A much more open game had suddenly broken out and Carroll offered new hope to his side's supporters with a goal. When he received the ball at his feet from Downing as Jose Bosingwa was caught in possession, the big striker fooled Terry and shot high into the net. Cech had to save twice from Suarez and Carroll headed over the bar before meeting a chip from Suarez with another header. As Cech pushed it on to the bar he wheeled away in celebration but television replays suggested the officials had made a correct decision; or at very least the only decision they could on the available evidence. By the time of future Cup finals they may have some technological support at last.
There was still time for the lively Carroll to force one more chance, Terry doing better this time with a characteristic block to ensure he made history by lifting the Cup as captain for the fourth time.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole; Mikel, Lampard; Ramires (Meireles, 76), Mata (Malouda, 90), Kalou; Drogba.
Liverpool (4-1-4-1): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique; Spearing (Carroll, 55); Bellamy (Kuyt, 78), Henderson, Gerrard, Downing; Suarez.
Referee Phil Dowd.
Man of the match Mata.
Match rating 7/10.