Chelsea progressed rather than impressed against Portsmouth last night, despite recording a 4-0 win to reach the FA Cup fourth round.
Their reward, depending on a replay, could be another short trip up to Loftus Road, the site of their acrimonious 1-0 defeat in October.
For 85 minutes, Chelsea struggled to overcome a resilient and determined Portsmouth side, despite Juan Mata's goal straight after the break. Ramires, one of the most effective players late on in games in the division, scored twice in the last five minutes, and Frank Lampard scored in stoppage time. But before then Chelsea had been well-matched.
"I think it was a bit harsh on Portsmouth," said Chelsea's assistant manager, Roberto Di Matteo, of the scoreline "especially the way they were organised and defended but we are very pleased with it and we deserved a [few] goals as well."
The first half was an exhibition of precisely the problems that Andre Villas-Boas was brought to Chelsea to solve. Even with Mata, Raul Meireles and Ramires all on the pitch, Chelsea still lapsed into some of the ponderous, one-paced football that Villas-Boas was meant to cleanse from Stamford Bridge.
Portsmouth, who were more comfortable than they could have hoped, should even have taken the lead. In the very first minute, Marko Futacs flicked a header on to his strike partner Dave Kitson. The former Reading forward, through on goal, could only drag his shot wide.
From there on Chelsea dominated possession but rarely displayed the guile to pass through Portsmouth's well-drilled back four. Chelsea's best early chance came when they went round Portsmouth: Florent Malouda, wide on the left, crossed for Fernando Torres, whose header was tipped over by Stephen Henderson.
Portsmouth had to defend well, certainly, and Jason Pearce stood out. He stuck tight to Torres, cut out crosses and dominated the penalty area as if he owned it. But Portsmouth may well have fiercer first-half examinations in the Championship this season.
Chelsea started the second half well. Florent Malouda darted past Aaron Mokoena in the way that used to be his trademark. On reaching the byline he rolled the ball to the near post, where Mata tapped it in.
Portsmouth were not content to limit damage. When winger Erik Huseklepp came on for Hayden Mullins they had a much more meaningful threat and nearly equalised through one triple chance. Futacs, Joel Ward and David Norris were denied by Petr Cech, John Terry and Cech again respectively.
The Portsmouth manager, Michael Appleton, said: "We got back into the game and you could sense there was a little bit of nervousness towards the end before they got the second goal, and I think that's a credit to the boys. But that's why Chelsea are where they are. The longer a game goes on, fatigue comes in, a lack of concentration comes in at times, and they've got players that can be clinical."
It took until the final five minutes for those differences to tell. Chelsea's best move of the match ended when Ramires ended a move he had started by knocking home a header by Torres.
Two minutes later, Torres fed Ramires once more, as ever still the fittest player on the pitch even after 87 minutes. He held off a pack of defenders and chipped Henderson. Then, in stoppage time, the substitute Oriol Romeu found Lampard, who shot into the bottom corner.
Chelsea: CECH 6/10, BOSINGWA 5, LUIZ 7, RAMIRES 8, TERRY 7, COLE 6, MEIRELES 7, LAMPARD 6, MALOUDA 6, TORRES 6, MATA 7
Portsmouth: KITSON 7, FUTACS 7, LAWRENCE 6, NORRIS 6, MULLINS 5, WARD 6, HALFORD 7, HENDERSON 7, PEARCE 7, ROCHA 7, MOKOENA 5
Goals: Mata 48, Ramires 85, 87, Lampard 90
Substitutes: Chelsea Romeu (Malouda, 78), Bertrand (Cole, 86), Lukaku (Torres, 88). Portsmouth Huseklepp 8 (Mullins, 67), Williams 6 (Rocha, 70).
Booked: Chelsea Malouda, Terry, Meireles. Portsmouth Pearce, Halford, Williams, Kitson.
Man of the match Ramires. Match rating 5/10. Possession: Chelsea 57% Portsmouth 43%.
Attempts on target: Chelsea 8 Portsmouth 3.
Referee A Taylor (Cheshire).
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