From the moment that Chelsea were forced to enter the Griffin Park pitch through a guard of honour of ball boys it was clear this was to be an uncomfortable day for the FA Cup holders and so it proved with League One Brentford twice poised to despatch them.
In the end a brace of equalisers from Oscar and Fernando Torres enabled the European Champions to avoid a humiliating exit and with no players sent off and no ball-boys harmed it turned into a relatively quiet afternoon by their standards.
It might easily have been different. Ross Turnbull received the benefit of the doubt from referee Jon Moss when he brought down Tom Adeyemi in the box, and Torres’s goal came just seven minutes from time.
And yet Chelsea might well have won, Moss somehow missing a clear handball by Harlee Dean in injury-time. That would have been harsh on their League One opponents. Uwe Rosler’s team of young talents discarded by bigger clubs, guided by a few older heads, outplayed the Premier League side for long periods on a heavily-sanded, gluepot pitch.
Interim manager Rafael Benitez preferred Torres to Demba Ba, rested Juan Mata, recalled John Terry and gave Marko Marin another chance on the right. With Ryan Bertrand advanced on the left this gave him a front three consisting of two players woefully out of form and an out-of-position left-back. It showed. Though Chelsea were the sharper team in the early stages they had no attacking threat. Once Brentford realised they would not be swept away they began to get the ball down and play themselves.
Helped by a strong wind at their backs, the central midfield trio of Adam Forshaw, Toumani Diagouraga and Jonathan Douglas pressed Ramires and Frank Lampard back and the Bees took control.
The main threat was on the left where Harry Forrester combined well with Shaleum Logan. Forrester had blasted over when Turnbull bizarrely conceded a free-kick by picking up Terry’s back-pass, and did not always choose the right option, but his skill and pace troubled Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill. Three times he threatened Turnbull and on the fourth he stuck gold, the goalkeeper only managing to shovel his shot out to Marcello Trotta, who lashed the rebound back. Cue joys for supporters of Brentford – and Fulham, from whom Trotta is on loan.
Marin was hauled off at the break and Mata asked again to rescue his team. Chelsea, who now had the wind in their favour, did begin to establish some control and 10 minutes into the half Oscar, showing delightfully quick feet in the box, levelled. Chelsea looked set to push on and secure a passage to the fifth round but with 20 minutes left Adeyemi, whose previous association with the FA Cup had been unhappy (he was racially abused at Anfield playing for Oldham) came on.
Almost immediately he went clear and tumbled over Turnbull’s clumsy challenge. Referee Moss decided it was a penalty, but, to the displeasure of Rosler, just a yellow card. “My impression is a goalscoring opportunity was denied. We know what that means,” said Rosler.
Forrester stepped up and scored in front of the Chelsea fans. “I had a little look at them to soak up the moment, then picked my spot,” he said. “It is one of those moments that will stay with me forever.”
The Chelsea fans called for Ba. Benitez changed right-backs prompting chants of: ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’.
“We know what we are doing,” said Benitez afterwards, adding that he wanted fresh legs to produce more width. Indeed Bertrand soon headed over from a Cesar Azpilicueta cross.
Benitez also pointed to the game-changing introduction of Mata as an example of his tactical acumen and said of Ba: “I left it as the team was doing well. We were in control and on top of things. When you are doing well you cannot change too many things.”
Ba finally came on, ostensibly to play on the left, with eight minutes remaining. He soon drifted inside and was involved in the move which ended with Torres curling a lovely shot past Simon Moore for his first goal in nine matches.
Brentford were happy to take a draw but Chelsea wanted a winner and might have had it had Moss seen Dean block Mata’s cross with his arm. With Frank Lampard on the pitch that would probably have been curtains for Brentford though Moore did make a superb penalty save against Leyton Orient in midweek.
“It was a very clear penalty,” said Benitez, “but it was also very clear we did not perform in the first half.” He did not, however, see any reason to feel relieved as: “I was really pleased with the reaction of the team in the second half.”
Such are Chelsea’s fixture commitments the replay – Brentford’s first match at Stamford Bridge since 1946 – will be held on the weekend of the fifth round, 16-17 February. In the meantime Chelsea have a Champions League place to chase and Europa League campaign to pursue, while Brentford focus on their League One promotion challenge with matches against Yeovil, Bury and Stevenage.