Chelsea battle past Luton to progress in FA Cup
Chelsea survived a scare against Championship side Luton Town to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals in a tie overshadowed by owner Roman Abramovich’s decision to sell the Stamford Bridge club.
Abramovich made the announcement an hour before kick-off after growing speculation he would put the club up for sale following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Chelsea’s players were unaware of the developments before Abramovich made them public in his statement, and Reece Burke made their night more uncomfortable when he put the Hatters in front with a header following a corner after only two minutes.
Luton lost goalkeeper Jed Steer to an ankle injury after only 14 minutes, and Chelsea equalised when Saul Niguez steered a cool finish past replacement Harry Isted on 27 minutes.
Harry Cornick raced clear to restore Luton’s lead before half-time but Chelsea turned up the pressure after the break to prevail despite an unconvincing performance.
Timo Werner finished coolly after collecting Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s long pass in the 68th minute, then crossed for Romelu Lukaku to slide in and put the Cup World Cup holders ahead for the first time 10 minutes later.
A winning Wednesday! 🙌#EmiratesFACup pic.twitter.com/EJuz2V0Dh4
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 2, 2022
Chelsea make hard work of it
Confirmation Abramovich was leaving Chelsea was the talk of Kenilworth Road before, during and after a highly eventful FA Cup tie.
It was a hugely significant moment in the club’s history, even though there was an air of inevitability given events in Ukraine.
Whether or not the news was still sinking in The Blues made the most sluggish of starts and were behind inside two minutes against a lively Luton side.
Manager Thomas Tuchel had rung the chances after defeat on penalties by Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday – even giving Kenedy his first start for the club in 1,505 days.
And it showed as they struggled for rhythm, even after Saul’s equaliser – falling behind once more before Werner and Lukaku saw them through.
Those goals should be a confidence boost for both strikers given their struggles to establish themselves, and Tuchel needed them with Chelsea in trouble against lower-division opposition.
This night, however, was all about the plots and sub-plots surrounding Abramovich’s departure, whenever that will be, and the mood of Chelsea’s players at the final whistle was one of relief rather than celebration.
Luton deserve huge credit
This was a throwback to Luton’s better days in the top flight as a packed, compact Kenilworth Road carried all the ingredients for an FA Cup shock.
And Nathan Jones’ Hatters did their best to provide it as they took Chelsea all the way, leading twice before running out of steam and falling to their visitors’ greater quality.
Luton showed why they are in the Championship play-off places as they performed with real verve and energy that bodes well as they push for promotion to the Premier League.
There will be disappointment in defeat but also great credit because they matched their opponents for long periods, even threatening a shock until Werner and Lukaku stepped up to rescue Chelsea.