For struggling teams the FA Cup is, so the cliché goes, a welcome distraction. Not so long ago that was the best Macclesfield could hope for, but yesterday they were the form side, having won their last four games, and Chelsea the ones in need of improvement.
Despite the scoreline, they did not truly get it. Victory was theirs, Chelsea's first in four matches, but their opponents ended up with nine men and a centre-half in goal. And still Andriy Shevchenko did not score. The striker played the full 90 minutes but it was a hat-trick by Frank Lampard that cushioned matters.
Macclesfield lost their 21-year-old goalkeeper, Tommy Lee, at the start of the second-half for a challenge on Shevchenko as he ran through. He caught the striker, but the fall appeared exaggerated, and a red card was shown. Lee looked concussed. His team were knocked out. With no reserve keeper, the captain Dave Morley faced Lampard's penalty.
The stand-in Chelsea captain was also a stand-in midfielder with his manager, Jose Mourinho, later revealing that Lampard had only played because Lassana Diarra had turned up 40 minutes late for a pre-match team meeting. "He should have been on the bench," Mourinho said of Lampard. "He deserves a rest but in the first half he was absolutely crucial."
In the contest of the self-styled Special One against the self-styled Guv'nor, Mourinho should be less happy with his day's work than Paul Ince but he was in feisty mood afterwards. He said it made him "laugh" that three Premiership draws had led to headlines, even in Portugal, referring to his "dark moment" while a statement praising Shevchenko's work-rate was punctuated by the pay-off that "in some matches I cannot say that". Nevertheless, no chances were taken.
Mourinho flooded his starting XI with talent worth around £150 million. Never mind the 89 places, from second in the Premiership to second-bottom of League Two that separated the clubs, this was the biggest ever discrepancy in the Cup's history even if Macclesfield were not quite the "Conference" team Mourinho stated they were. At least the Chelsea manager, who waited at the final whistle to shake the hands of the Macclesfield players, showed more grace than the pre-match announcer who had taunted the visitors, asking why they had brought 6,000 supporters when their average home attendance was just 2,500. For such a rich club, that was truly cheap.
Ince has engineered a remarkable transformation at Macclesfield but - despite a volley of abuse to the referee Lee Mason - he did not feel like sharing his thoughts, which was a pity given the spirit and organisation he has clearly injected into his team.
They did not appear fazed even when they fell behind. The goal had a touch of fortune. Shaun Wright-Phillips mis-hit Salomon Kalou's clipped cross only for the ball to run to Lampard, who slammed it beyond Lee. Even though Chelsea did not capitalise on that advantage it was still a shock when Matt McNeil headed on Danny Swailes' long ball forward only for Ricardo Carvalho to make a hash of his clearance. It skidded through to John Murphy and he swept his low shot through Hilario's legs.
The delirium was short-lived. Immediately, Chelsea drove forward and as Alan Navarro lost possession, dangerously close to his own area, it broke to Lampard whose instant drive beat Lee again. Mourinho deemed that moment, just before half-time, crucial but it was not as pivotal as Lee's dismissal. "I feel sorry," Mourinho said. "It was a red card and for a referee you cannot say this is a rich team, this is a poor team, this is a top player, this is a boy. It was the law of the game."
Amid the confusion Morley picked up the gloves. He got close to Lampard's penalty but dived over it. And although he saved well from Shevchenko's flicked shot he was clearly not quite in the same class as Sheffield United's Phil Jagielka in goal.
Not that Hilario was that sound either. He just about managed to claw away another shot from the impressive Murphy and was almost caught out in injury-time by Navarro. By then, Chelsea had rattled in three more goals and Macclesfield had lost another player. Having made all three substitutions they were further depleted with John Miles suffering a back injury.
Lampard turned provider when his in-swinging cross found Morley rooted, allowing Wright-Phillips to touch the ball past him, and then the makeshift keeper stood as John Obi Mikel drilled in his first Chelsea goal from just outside the area. Finally, Morley pushed out Wright-Phillips' cross straight to Carvalho, whose shot took two deflections. It was a cruel, distorted scoreline.Reuse content