The moment came after just eight minutes and, frankly, whatever then happened mattered little. Scunthorpe United took the lead against Chelsea, becoming the first team to breach their expensively assembled, immaculately drilled defence for 519 minutes, doing what five Premiership teams had failed to do in that time, and they did it into the goal behind which erupted their 6,000 supporters. Priceless.
But what did happen next was almost as amazing. Scunthorpe, with supreme justification, can say that they spurned at least five opportunities to score again, including a header against a post. That it took the Premiership leaders almost an hour to wrestle the lead, and that they did so courtesy of a goal which took a vital deflection, and another direct from a Scunthorpe player, only served as evidence to the brilliance of the efforts by the team from the steel town. The Iron were indeed made of stern stuff on an afternoon which will go down in the lore of the club. They did not deserve to lose and their manager, Brian Laws, appeared to surprise himself when he justifiably uttered afterwards: "I'm proud but quite disappointed that we did not get anything more out of it."
Scunthorpe are 68 places below Chelsea in the League standings but that does not come close to equating the gulf. But it was remarkably, improbably, unbelievably breached. As Chelsea attempted to clear, the ball was swung wide by the visitors' captain, Andy Crosby, into the path of Matthew Sparrow. All too easily he cut inside Didier Drogba and crossed low for Paul Hayes who turned nimbly, with Alexei Smertin caught out, and fired low, between Carlo Cudicini's legs, and into the net. It was the 21-year-old striker's first goal in eight games. What a time to score. The celebrations were raucous, delirious, delightful and, as subsequent events proved, deserved.
For the League Two side took the game to Chelsea. They forced a series of corners, they refused to back off and they attacked. It was extraordinary stuff especially when snapshot comparisons are made. Take the costs of the squads. Scunthorpe - in the absence of the suspended Steve Torpey, a £175,000 signing, £125,000 less than they will make from this match - cost nothing and included four £200-a-week trainees. The club's annual wage bill would cover Frank Lampard's pay packet for a few weeks.
Not that the England midfielder took the field. He was suspended and although the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, had done his usual homework, having had Scunthorpe watched three times, he started with a curiously unbalanced side which included Smertin at the heart of defence and two debutants alongside him, in Steven Watt and Nuno Morais. It showed and he admitted it was a problem. "Today we did not have a very strong defensive play," he said.
Further forward there were fewer concessions. Drogba, the £24m record signing started, and helped fashion the equalising goal when he challenged with Crosby for Eidur Gudjohnsen's cross and the ball fell to Mateja Kezman who thumped his volley past Paul Musselwhite. Even then it took a deflection, off Crosby. Cruel. The relief was palpable and tinged with embarrassment.
"I was not surprised," Mourinho later professed. "I know cups. I know the small teams' mentality and the big players' mentality. I was not waiting for a big performance." He added: "For them [Scunthorpe] it was the game of their lives. For us it was just another game."
The relief came on 58 minutes as Drogba burst down the left, collecting Tiago's long pass, and crossed for the ball to be immediately bundled past Musselwhite. Unfortunately it was done so by his own defender, the increasingly, cruelly unfortunate Crosby. Once ahead, Mourinho handed a debut to Jiri Jarosik, the Czech midfielder acquired for £5m from CSKA Moscow, but, amazingly, Scunthorpe had opportunities to draw level. Richard Kell won a header and the ball dropped to substitute Cleveland Taylor. His shot lacked power but Cudicini did well to stretch and save. Astonishingly, they were gifted another chance. This time Cudicini flapped at a cross and Butler, close in, volleyed despairingly into the side-netting.
"Our gameplan was to attack Chelsea at the back post," Laws said. "We detected a weakness." It was cheeky, but why not, especially as the chances continued. With 15 minutes to go, 39-year-old Peter Beagrie centred and Taylor beat his marker and headed, agonisingly, against a post. The dream ended. Musselwhite saved from substitute Arjen Robben, then brilliantly from Joe Cole before Gudjohnsen blasted home. Scunthorpe's supporters sang long after the final whistle. They deserved to.Reuse content