Chelsea 4 Aston Villa 0: Lampard leads the way as Chelsea reassert supremacy

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The Independent Football

In a competition that has so often failed to make a noise in the past, a result that will resonate throughout the rest of the Premiership - but also another worrying incident of an object being thrown at a player. In league terms four places separate Chelsea and Aston Villa but, last night, the gulf was vast. It was certainly far wider than the four goals that Jose Mourinho's players rattled in and Martin O'Neill's conceded.

However, during the second half, play was stopped after a plastic bottle was thrown on to the pitch, apparently aimed at the Chelsea goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who was making his comeback after the head injury suffered at Reading. It came from the end housing the 6,000 visiting Villa supporters who had been bussed in by chairman Randy Lerner. There were also claims that a coin was aimed at Frank Lampard after he scored Chelsea's first goal.

The Football Association, following on from their inquiries at Fulham and West Ham United at the weekend, will almost certainly launch a third investigation today. Chelsea can expect to be asked to review their CCTV footage and prove they provided adequate stewarding. "It's not what we want from our fans," O'Neill said later.

It was the only incident of controversy involving referee Mark Halsey. Given the focus now on his colleague Graham Poll, following Chelsea's defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, the dismissal of John Terry ruling the England captain out of this encounter, and the allegations of who said what that followed, that will have come as one relief to officialdom.

Such is the keenness of the rivalry between Mourinho and O'Neill that it pained the Villa manager all the more to have suffered such a reversal, the heaviest defeat his charges have suffered under him. What will have hurt more, however, were worrying injuries to his captain Gareth Barry - who damaged his back and will go for a scan today - and the central defender Martin Laursen, who has strained medial ligaments.

A thin squad suddenly looks transparent. "It is nights like these that I'm pleased we have 18 points on the board," O'Neill said of the games ahead. This may have been the League Cup but he, too, was aware of the effects it could have elsewhere for a team whose only spark came from teenager Gabriel Agbonlahor. "They are the strongest team in European football, they also have a lot of class players," O'Neill said. "Chelsea were excellent, really excellent. And in the second half we were unable to cope with them. They were much better than us."

Indeed such was the ease with which Chelsea regally progressed to the quarter-finals that Mourinho barely rose from his dug-out throughout the contest. Instead the technical area was solely O'Neill's domain. And despite his cajoling, and his intense encouragement, the Irishman simply could not wrestle a performance from his team to deny Mourinho, his nemesis in that Uefa Cup final three years ago, from progressing towards winning again the first trophy he lifted as Chelsea manager.

There were more pluses for Chelsea than in a star pupil's report card. First there was the sight of Michael Ballack providing the cross for Frank Lampard to head in his seventh goal of the season - which provided more evidence that the two big-name midfielders are finally gelling. Then there was Andrei Shevchenko also scoring with a header as he returned from four games out through injury. Again it owed much to defensive frailty but the Ukrainian finally appears to be shifting through the gears.

Furthermore there was the irrepressible form of Michael Essien - so awesome right now - and the return on his home pitch of Joe Cole. Mourinho had plenty to purr about but instead sent in his assistant, Steve Clark. It was the only note of a weakened side Chelsea displayed. On the pitch they, like Villa, were virtually full strength given or take the odd defender. "The idea of Chelsea gathering a squad of the intensity they have is to compete in every competition," O'Neill said.

The two headed goals killed the contest but Chelsea did not let up - and that was all the more frightening. Their appetite is keen. And so when Geremi galloped forward, he slipped the ball to Essien who easily cut inside Olof Mellberg to poke home the third.

Then Cole shimmied on the penalty area's edge to tee up fellow substitute Salomon Kalou and as his shot was charged down the ball broke to Didier Drogba, who thrashed it into the net "Easy, easy" was the home crowd's chant. Indeed it was.

Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cudicini; Geremi, Boulahrouz, Carvalho, Bridge; Makelele (Diarra, 85); Essien, Lampard; Ballack ( J Cole, 76); Shevchenko (Kalou, 76), Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Wright-Phillips.

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Sorensen; Hughes, Laursen (Ridgewell, h-t), Mellberg, Bouma; Agbonlahor, Davis (Baros, 71), McCann, Petrov, Barry (Berger, 45); Angel. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Osbourne.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

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