Chelsea moved into the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 3-1 victory over Luton Town at Stamford Bridge. The gulf in class between Frank Lampard’s side and the Championship team was apparent for long spells but Chelsea struggled to make their dominance pay. Tammy Abraham scored all three of his team’s goals, opening his account in the 11th minute, adding a second six minutes later and sealing the game with just over a quarter of an hour remaining but Chelsea were wasteful and had spells of uncertainty. The result will do little to lift the pressure on Lampard.
Nathan Jones’s side were spirited but limited. Jordan Clark’s goal gave them a foothold in the game after half an hour. At times it appeared that they would be swept aside but for periods in the second half they had ambitions of equalising.
Luton started well. They pressed Chelsea hard and the home side were taking no chances. When Emerson received a pass from Kepa Arrizabalaga under pressure in his own area, the Brazilian did not even think of looking for a man but simply rolled the ball out of play. The cheap throw-in delighted Luton. It was clear they fancied their chances at set-pieces. Sonny Bradley planted his hulking presence in the six-yard box and there was a brief flurry of panic as the Chelsea defenders screamed at Abraham to get back and help. The striker had briefly switched off and was reminded in vehement terms of his responsibilities.
An avoidable throw-in proved to be the beginnings of Luton’s downfall. Simon Sluga misplaced a clearance out of play and Chelsea took the throw quickly – perhaps a little too fast, because there were two balls on the field as play went on. Timo Werner had the one that mattered at his feet and was behind the defence. The German looked up from the byline and pulled the ball back to Abraham, who was fully awake at this end of the pitch. The striker calmly slotted his shot into the net, placing the ball into the far corner and giving Sluga no chance.
It was not long before the 23-year-old was on the scoresheet again. Chelsea were well on top and probing around the opposition area when Reece James took possession and chipped an inviting cross into the box. Abraham rose above the defenders and sent his header into the back of the net.
Chelsea were enjoying themselves and were swaggering a little. Werner produced an extravagant dummy on the edge of the box that left Christian Pulisic in masses of space but the American shot straight at Sluga. Luton were struggling to get on the ball but Lampard’s team have a habit of being profligate and regretting it.
So it proved. On a rare foray forward, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu was given time and space 25 yards out. He spread the ball to the right to James Bree and the defender dragged a cross back to Clark. The winger did not make the best contact but Kepa’s weak-wristed effort to save could not keep out Clark’s first-time shot. The goalkeeper looked embarrassed and rightly so.
No wonder Lampard was frustrated. The gap in class between the two sides was gaping but Luton were still in the game.
No one doubts Chelsea’s ability. Pulisic curled a long range shot just wide and some of their passing was sumptuous. Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech, Billy Gilmour and Pulisic were shifting the ball around and looked at times as if they were admiring their own stylishness. Yet there is something missing: that mean-eyed killer instinct that Lampard displayed a player. There were no frills about the manager. His team are too decorative when they need to be dangerous.
For all the home side’s control of the game, Luton could have gone in level at the half. From a free kick outside the box Harry Conick headed goalwards but Kepa was in the right position to save.
Creativity is not Chelsea’s problem. Ziyech completed a series of stepovers with a backheel that released Reece James and the full back’s cross gave Pulisic a wonderful opportunity but the 22-year-old allowed Sluga to block his effort. The American was unfortunate to have a shot ricochet off a defender’s head but the missed chances were piling up.
Luton were compact, determined and eager to break. Kepa was quick out of his box and got to a long punt first and on the hour mark Jones’s side should have equalised.
James miskicked just inside his own half and allowed Dan Potts to run free towards goal. Potts fed Mpanzu charging through the middle and the midfielder found Cornick in the inside right channel. It seemed certain Cornick would score but Kepa stood tall and blocked the shot with his arm.
The away team were growing in confidence and there was little flamboyance from Chelsea as they struggled to get on the ball. Luton pushed up the pitch and squeezed the space where Lampard’s men had previously been comfortable. The difference in ability between the teams was less evident. Werner tried another dummy but this time a defender was waiting behind him. It had all become predictable.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, who replaced Pulisic with 20 minutes to go, provided the spark for Chelsea to pull clear. The winger chipped in a cross that Abraham headed wide but the striker’s frustration at not sealing his hat-trick did not last long. Hudson-Odoi played a splendid one-two with Gilmour and put the ball at Abraham’s feet in the six-yard box. This time the striker gratefully dispatched his third goal and provided Chelsea with breathing space.
Werner should have added a fourth after he was brought down in the penalty area by Clark but the German fired his spot-kick too close to Sluga, who pushed the ball clear.
Chelsea are now away to Bradford in the fifth round, a team they routed 6-0 in the Carabao Cup at the Bridge in September. It was nowhere near as easy against Luton and Lampard’s discomfiture continues. It is still in question whether he will be in charge when the team goes to Yorkshire next month.