This article titled “Fernando Torres ends goal drought as Chelsea ease past Leicester” was written by David Hytner at Stamford Bridge, for The Guardian on Sunday 18th March 2012 16.44 UTC
The T-shirts are on their way to the printers. “I was there when Fernando Torres scored.” After what could be described as a hard day’s night, Chelsea’s £50m striker ended his goal drought. It had passed the 24-hour mark in Wednesday’s Champions League epic against Napoli and the number-crunchers had it at 25 hours and 41 minutes when Raul Meireles broke forward to cross for him.
This FA Cup quarter-final was as good as over, with Chelsea coasting on the back of first-half goals from Gary Cahill and Salomon Kalou. But the home crowd wanted to see their man remove the monkey from his back and drop-kick it out of Stamford Bridge. Torres’s finish hardly overflowed with conviction. Having taken a touch, he scraped his right-footed shot towards the far corner. At first, it looked as though he had mis-hit it. But the ball wriggled past Kasper Schmeichel. The outpouring of relief was ferocious.
The Chelsea support has stayed with Torres throughout his travails. When he missed a couple of presentable chances here to break the duck, they responded with choruses of his name. They, too, had deserved to revel in the moment and there was more, as the London bus analogy came into force, although it might be said that even the most delayed of their number tend to turn up within the day.
Leicester City’s spirited attacking play merited reward and it arrived when Neil Danns’ shot hit the post and Jermaine Beckford rammed home the rebound to maintain his FA Cup scoring record. It is now 15 in 15 starts. Yet it was another striker’s form that was under the spotlight and when Meireles swung over a corner, Torres darted clear of his markers to glance a fine header into the far corner.
He advertised the hat-trick after Leicester’s second consolation, which was the best of the afternoon, Ben Marshall fizzing a long-range drive beyond the outstretched arms of Petr Cech into the top corner. Torres looked transformed and, when he galloped through and skated across the edge of the area, the crowd implored him to shoot. Instead he squared to Meireles, his provider, for the Portuguese to give the scoreline a more accurate reflection of Chelsea’s control.
Torres had also set up Kalou’s goal and if the cynics might point to the Championship opposition – and Championship opposition who had defended particularly badly, at that – he could simply savour a man-of-the-match performance which was gilded by positive numbers. As Chelsea look ahead to defining tests, at home and in Europe, it will feel good to have Torres’s confidence bolstered.
The club’s run goes on. It is four wins in four matches under the caretaker charge of Roberto Di Matteo and John Terry, the captain, who did not play here, banged the drum for optimism when, with opportunities in the FA Cup and Champions League, he suggested “it could turn out to be one of our finest seasons ever”.
Terry can normally be relied on for such tub-thumping but there was zest and cohesion about a shadow Chelsea side from the outset, in a fixture that might have been a nervy affair in the days of André Villas-Boas’s tenure.
The opening goal, though, was underscored by sadness. Cahill spent two and a half seasons alongside Fabrice Muamba at Bolton Wanderers and after he rose to power home Juan Mata’s corner and record his first Chelsea goal, he lifted his shirt to reveal a message that caught the mood within the game: Pray 4 Muamba.
Leicester’s noisy travelling fans had enjoyed one or two flickers in the opening exchanges, most notably when Beckford felt that he was tripped by Meireles on the very margins of the penalty area and the eye-catching Danns endeavoured to drive them back into the game; he saw a 34th-minute shot tipped superbly to safety by Cech. Yet there was a looseness about the visitors’ work at the back, where they were repeatedly exposed down the flanks.
Chelsea ought to have been out of sight by the halfway point of the first half but they led only 2-0 after Torres accelerated away from Richie Wellens to cross for Kalou, who showed wonderful composure before stroking his shot past Schmeichel. The home support thrilled to sublime touches from Daniel Sturridge and Mata; the latter teed up Torres for a header that was directed straight at Schmeichel and Mata also saw a goal-bound shot hit Paul Konchesky.
Torres became the principal subplot and when he sliced when well-placed in the 59th minute, it felt as though it would be the familiar tale of positive flashes overshadowed by a lack of cold-bloodedness in front of goal. This time, though, he fashioned a different script.
Man of the match Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
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