Chelsea certainly look much better equipped to go the distance this year with their imported Italian talent taking little time to adapt to the largely synthetic frenzy which these Cup ties between the big fish and the minnows now generate.
Dennis Wise's goal, six minutes before half-time, effectively finished the contest but it seemed over long before that as Chelsea observed West Brom's initial surge with the curiosity of a lion watching a fleeing gazelle. Once the adrenalin had ebbed out of West Brom they were easy meat. Although late goals from Craig Burley and Gianfranco Zola somewhat flattered Chelsea's performance, the home victory was never in doubt. West Brom's sole effort on goal did not arrive until the 79th minute.
The last time these teams had met in the Cup was in 1969, sandwiched between West Brom's victory over Everton in 1968 and Chelsea's replay win over Leeds in 1970. But now West Brom are nothing more than an ordinary mid-table First Division side with little prospect of a return to the big time unless they can find somebody to mirror the investment at Chelsea.
"I was very disappointed with our performance," West Brom's manager, Alan Buckley, said. "People will go away from here thinking that we can't play because we haven't done ourselves justice."
The plainer truth, however, is that once Chelsea had closed down West Brom's early bravado in midfield, the lower-division team could rarely get a touch of the ball.
Wise, keeping his place after his performance as substitute against Liverpool, the imperious Roberto Di Matteo, and the more elaborate Zola provided passing and movement that would have found out the very best teams.
Zola's low cross set up the first goal as it squirted through to Wise, who was able to turn inside the otherwise impressive debutant Shaun Murphy and poke a shot inside the post. Murphy, a muscular Australian, nevertheless looked good enough to attract the attention of Terry Venables.
But he and his defensive colleagues could do little to hold out against Chelsea once their momentum built up irresistibly in the second half. Craig Burley, who had a nightmare in the semi-final against Manchester United last April, scored within a short period of coming on as substitute, flicking Di Matteo's wonderful through-ball past Paul Crichton with a minimal touch.
"Everybody tuned in really well today," the Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit reflected with satisfaction. "There were lots of things I was really proud of out there."
He may well have been thinking of Zola's tap-in in the final minute after the substitute Gianluca Vialli had hit the post, a little flourish that rubber-stamped the investment in the Italian pedigree market, which will keep Gullit's dream of a Wembley visit alive.Reuse content