Conor Gallagher opened the scoring for Chelsea at Aston Villa (Picture: Getty)
Mauricio Pochettino’s resurgent Chelsea successfully booked their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup with a comprehensive 3-1 victory away to Aston Villa.
After a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge, an under-pressure Pochettino entered Wednesday’s replay to chants of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ at Villa Park, but the visitors swiftly silenced the noisy home support thanks to first-half goals from Conor Gallagher and Nicolas Jackson.
Enzo Fernandez made it three with a stunning 25-yard free-kick in the 54th minute and Pochettino’s men held on after Moussa Diaby’s late consolation to cruise into the next round of the competition in some style.
Chelsea – eight-time winners of the FA Cup – will take on Leeds United for a place in the quarter-finals after Daniel Farke’s side saw off Plymouth Argyle on Tuesday evening.
Spurred on by a boisterous Villa crowd, Matty Cash created the first nervy moment for a Thiago Silva-less Chelsea defence, but the full-back’s tame cross was easily dealt with by the visitors and the attack came to nothing.
Noni Madueke, arguably Chelsea’s most potent threat on the night, burst down the left in the sixth minute before providing an inviting cross which narrowly evaded an onrushing Cole Palmer inside the penalty area.
Just moments later, the Blues had another golden opportunity to break the deadlock, though Fernandez’s tame header – from Ben Chilwell’s inswinging corner – was directed straight into the arms of his fellow countryman Emiliano Martinez.
Jackson headed home to double the visitors’ lead (Picture: Getty)
Chelsea continued to probe and Pochettino’s men got their reward in the 11th minute after Jackson’s deflected pass found the ever-present Madueke in the box who, in turn, laid the ball back to Gallagher. The England midfielder cooly set himself before side-footing an arrowed strike past Martinez.
The home side immediately hit back at the other end of the pitch but Leon Bailey scuffed his attempted finish before Ollie Watkins tested Dorde Petrovic with a powerful drive which the Serbian tipped over the bar to safety.
Chelsea broke from the centre circle with pace in the 19th minute, with Unai Emery’s men showing signs of weariness and struggling to build any momentum. The ball once again fell to the dangerous Madueke, but the winger fired wide with his wayward effort after cutting inside from the right flank.
In the 21st minute, Jackson announced his return from the Africa Cup of Nations with a bang as he latched on to Malo Gusto’s pinpoint cross to calmly head home and double the visitors’ advantage – the Senegal forward’s ninth goal of the season in all competitions.
Chelsea came close to making it three before the half-time break as Madueke made inroads down the right wing against a tiring Alex Moreno – but Palmer’s subsequent shot was denied by Martinez.
Fernandez scored the goal of the evening with a sublime 25-yard free-kick (Picture: Getty)
Villa had a rare opportunity to halve the deficit in the dying moments of the first half as Chelsea’s players suffered a momentary lapse in concentration after a Chilwell foul throw. But John McGinn’s resulting strike from the edge of the box was parried away with ease by Petrovic.
Undoubtedly the moment of the match arrived in the 54th minute as Argentine World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez beat compatriot Emi Martinez with a majestic free-kick from 25 yards out to put Chelsea out of sight, sparking wild celebrations from the travelling fans in Birmingham.
The Blues refused to ease their intensity as the second half wore on and Madueke continued to cause problems for Moreno, with the young Englishman seeing a deflected strike sail past the post just before the hour-mark.
Villa skipper McGinn had a pair of inviting chances to score, but the Scot’s 57th-minute effort flew past the post before Axel Disasi got down brilliantly to deny him with a superb block on the edge of the six-yard box with 20 minutes remaining.
Emery will have been praying for a late Villa flourish on the touchline and another opportunity fell to the home side in the 76th minute as Moreno outjumped Gusto at the back-post before nodding the ball harmlessly over the bar.
Diaby’s late strike – that went in off the post – made for a nervy ending for Chelsea, but the away team preserved their two-goal advantage to secure their place in the next round and ease the pressure after back-to-back Premier League defeats.
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