Terry shines as Chelsea put up a good defence

Queen's Park Rangers: 0 Chelsea 1

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The Independent Football

There is much sense in Mark Hughes' suggestion, made after the abandonment of the handshake parade before this FA Cup fourth-round tie, that the whole charade be dispensed with. It is a pointless exercise, devoid of meaning, and performed with a functional lack of interest.

However, at present it is part of the pre-match ritual. That the Football Association was forced to cancel it at Loftus Road on Saturday to protect the England captain from being publicly humiliated by a team of his fellow professionals is extremely embarrassing for the sport. Footballers do not choose to be role models, but there is no avoiding the reality that the position of England captain is one children aspire to and adults respect – or would like to. It's not the first time Terry has been caught up in controversy.

Counsel for the Chelsea defender will deny a charge of using racist language towards Anton Ferdinand at a hearing at West London Magistrates Court on Wednesday. He is innocent until proven guilty, and as such should retain the national armband while the case works through the legal process. Unfortunately for the FA, the legal process moves at glacial speed and the matter will remain on the news agenda. Given Terry's unfortunate habit of attracting bad publicity, the governing body must rue the day Fabio Capello decided to reinstate him.

Among the reasons Capello gave for doing so was Terry's impressive ability to focus on events on the football field regardless of the traumas off it. Terry was excellent on Saturday, as he usually is when embroiled in controversy. Andre Villas-Boas said Chelsea would give him time off to deal with the case if required, but added: "His level of performance has not been affected; if that continues we will continue to play him."

This was Chelsea's fourth clean sheet in succession, after a run of six matches without one. "Our defence recently has improved a lot," said Villas-Boas. "We have shown good, solid organisation, and also individually the players stepped up a level."

Goalkeeper Petr Cech concurred. "We have improved as a team in terms of defending," he said. "We are not making mistakes any more at the back. We look more compact in every line, defence and midfield. We have worked hard on that and it is paying off."

All this and Gary Cahill, the new £7m England centre-half, has yet to kick a ball. There is, though, a price to be paid. As football's "short blanket" law stipulates, more defending means less attacking and Chelsea have scored twice in three games, the latter goal being the soft penalty Daniel Sturridge won from the referee Mike Dean on Saturday, and Juan Mata converted.

"Maybe we are scoring less than before but we have full trust in what we do offensively," said Villas-Boas. "We continue to attack a lot. What has been our problem is finding that efficiency in front of goal."

Unfortunately for Saturday's spectators, Hughes is engaged in a similar exercise at QPR, concentrating on defensive organisation. As a consequence the match was dire, more resembling a mid-table, end-of-season Serie A game than an English derby cup-tie.

QPR retreated behind the halfway line, happy to concede space and possession to Chelsea. But with the visitors reluctant to commit men forward, and moving the ball far too slowly, the game suffocated.

Hughes has problems with injuries and absences and a lack of firepower, but so did Neil Warnock and his QPR had a go. Once the 3,114 away supporters are stripped out, QPR sold just 12,614 tickets to their own fans, 2,400 fewer than attended the league match between the sides in October.

Hughes may believe QPR have the "ambition" he claimed Fulham lacked but he must wonder at the club's potential, given that children were admitted free with an adult. Then again, for £40-£50 an adult ticket, most supporters want to see more than the defensive discipline, midfielders tracking runners and hard work Hughes praised after the match.

So does Roman Abramovich, who has spent rather more at Chelsea. With the league title destined for Manchester and strong competition for the Champions League places, Villas-Boas has identified an FA Cup triumph as a means of buying time while he rebuilds the team to his own, more expansive preference. This explained Saturday's strong selection.

With Jose Mourinho apparently set to be back on the market in the summer, this is a competition Villas-Boas wants, and needs, to win.

Match facts



Scorer: Chelsea Mata pen 62.

Substitutes: Queen's Park Rangers Macheda (Helguson, h-t), Hulse (Buzsaky, 80). Chelsea Romeu (Ramires, 79), Essien (Mata, 90).

Booked: QPR Wright-Phillips, Hall. Chelsea Cole, Romeu.

Man of the match Ramires. Match rating 3/10. Possession: QPR 43% Chelsea 57%.

Attempts on target: QPR 3 Chelsea 5.

Referee M Dean (Wirral). Attendance 15,728.