IT WAS a frantic, fiery, no-holds-barred kind of FA Cup semi-final between two clubs that cannot stand the idea of one another and two teams whose form has soared and dipped this season. Such a pity it will be remembered for a stupid refereeing mistake that should could so easily have been avoided.
The Football Association are pushing Fifa harder than any other member nation for the introduction of video technology but it has not come quick enough to prevent yesterday's referee Martin Atkinson for allowing Juan Mata's ghost goal on 49 minutes yesterday. What can you say about this decision? It was a horror. The ball never crossed the line. In fact, the ball barely reached the line.
In the aftermath of the game even John Terry, who was the last Chelsea player to touch the ball in the melee that preceded Atkinson's decision, admitted that the ball had not crossed the line. The goal came at a crossroads in the game, with Spurs one goal behind. They pulled one back through Gareth Bale and then found themselves pulled apart blow by painful blow.
It was a ruthless Chelsea performance, redolent of the good old days at the club when they would pound opponents into the dust. Didier Drogba was imperious and scored the first. After Mata's controversial goal, Ramires, Frank Lampard and then the substitute Florent Malouda scored. Chelsea are in their fourth FA Cup final in seven years against Liverpool on 5 May and they have won the last three, although they have had a different manager for each one.
For reaching a final, caretaker Di Matteo deserves great credit. But this game could not be separated from Atkinson's decision, a howler on a big day at a time that officials are under greater scrutiny than ever before.
Atkinson has had a bad time of it of late. He failed to send off Mario Balotelli for the studs-up lunge at Alex Song eight days ago. It was Atkinson who failed to spot that Clint Hill's goal for Queens Park Rangers against Bolton Wanderers last month had indeed crossed the line. It was Atkinson who sent off Jack Rodwell for a tackle in Luis Suarez in October, only for the red card to be rescinded.
There are some excellent match officials in the English game. This was a bad day for one of them. Atkinson is going to Euro 2012 this summer as an "additional assistant referee", ie one of those who stands on the goalline in order to judge whether the ball has crossed it. The irony of that will not be lost on Tottenham supporters.
Harry Redknapp was generous about Atkinson in the aftermath of the game, acknowledging it was an "honest mistake". He said that he had already spoken to the referee after the game. "He [Atkinson] said he feels worse than me," Redknapp said. "I said to him 'I don't think so'."
The cynical might argue that Redknapp's reluctance to blast Atkinson's reputation in the Wembley press auditorium was motivated in part by the very strong possibility that the FA will approach him over the England manager's job this week. Indeed some of the seats in the room were occupied by men and women in FA blazers. But that would too simplistic a reckoning.
Yes, the goal that never was - a shot by Mata that hit Terry and then Benoit Assou-Ekotto before it failed to cross the line - played an important role in the game. Had it not stood then Bale's goal for Spurs would have been the equaliser and then who knows what might have happened. But equally, Spurs were picked off far too easily with even Redknapp admitting he left his side too open.
Chelsea came good when it mattered and they were clinical in front of goal. Di Matteo picked a very strong team despite the proximity of Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first leg with Barcelona and they weathered a first half in which Spurs should scored.
On 36 minutes, John Terry, standing on the Chelsea goalline, got his knee in the way of Rafael Van der Vaart's header after Lennon had recycled Emmanuel Adebayor's cross. A few minutes later Adebayor needed only brush the cross from Van der Vaart but instead it carried through and hit Petr Cech's post.
Lennon looked back to the kind of player he is at his best. Bale had left Jose Bosingwa spinning in his slipstream. David Luiz, who was taken off on a stretcher after Spurs' goal and will surely miss Wednesday's game, was dragged across to deal with Bale. Luiz was well-beaten by Lennon on one occasion.
There had been occasional chances for Chelsea, mostly on the counter-attack. Salomon Kalou slipped the ball into Mata's stride as they broke away on 27 minutes but he could not keep it under control. When Drogba finally found his groove he was utterly unstoppable.
Two minutes from the break, the 34-year-old took a long punt on his chest with his back to goal. Behind him, William Gallas could not find a way around the Chelsea striker. Drogba took the ball to his left- his weaker side - and in one movement swivelled to face goal and hit a shot inside Cudicini's right post that travelled so fast it was past the goalkeeper before he got properly into his dive.
Chelsea were up and running. They had chances before Mata's fateful shot. The ball struck Terry, who was on the ground and then Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who was in a sitting position, and appeared to clear it away with the sole of his boots. The ball came out again and the scramble around the Spurs area continued. Atkinson was not inundated with Chelsea players protesting that the ball had crossed the line. He took his time and then gave the goal.
Within seven minutes, Spurs had clawed a goal back. Scott Parker played Adebayor through on goal and, as he went around Cech, the Chelsea goalkeeper brought him down. Had Bale not been there to tap in the loose ball it would have been a penalty for Spurs and a red card for Cech. Redknapp said later he would rather have had the latter.
Spurs never got back in it. Ramires was played onside by Kyle Walker and lifted the ball from Mata over Cudicini for the third goal. Lampard scored a brilliant free-kick for the fourth after a desperate foul by Gallas on Drogba. The substitute Malouda scored the last. It will not be those goals that this game is remembered for.
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