Ruben Loftus-Cheek netted his first goal for Chelsea as the Premier League champions eased through to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup.
The England Under 21s star came off the bench at half-time and imposed himself by netting the security goal which saw the Blues through against a stubborn Scunthorpe side, as he added to Diego Costa’s first-half opener.
Chelsea were far from their fluent best, but a fourth win out of the previous six – a run where the Blues have gone unbeaten – represents a real return to form since the appointment of Guus Hiddink as interim manager.
The Dutchman, who steered Chelsea to FA Cup success back in 2009, threatened to incur the wrath of Blues fans when he failed to name one youth player in a strong-looking starting eleven, but his decision to bring on Loftus-Cheek, as well as fellow potential stars-in-the-making Kenedy and Bertrand Traore ensured this was a wholly satisfactory afternoon’s work.
What appeared to be a slight muscular injury suffered by Costa in the final stages threatened to be the only blot of the Blues’ copybook, but this was ultimately a routine victory for Chelsea that was secured with minimum effort.
There will be plenty left in the tank ahead of Wednesday’s visit of West Bromwich Albion as the Blues return to Premier League duty, and with Cesc Fabregas and Willian amongst those again putting in impressive shifts, there is plenty for the interim manager to feel content about.
Asmir Begovic returned in the Chelsea goal for his first action since the 0-0 draw with Tottenham at the end of November, and he left unemployed for much of a first half that was played out in comprehensively comfortable fashion for the hosts.
A swift start was the reward for a packed-out Stamford Bridge crowd – bolstered by the 3,000 travelling Scunthorpe fans who had made the long trip south from Lincolnshire – and there was an air of inevitability about Diego Costa’s opener.
Following a period of sustained possession deep in the visitor’s half of the pitch, the ball was eventually played out wide to Branislav Ivanovic, who expertly picked out the Spanish international with an inch-perfect delivery. Costa, sandwiched between two defenders, showed good composure to steer the ball home beyond Luke Daniels and net his fourth goal in three matches.
Daniels then played a starring role in ensuring the Irons made it through to the break without succumbing to further pressure. He first made a spectacular save to deny Fabregas after the former Barcelona man left fly with aplomb from the edge of the area, and then made an even more stupendous parry from Pedro’s deflected volley, after Fabregas had turned provider to pick out his compatriot with an intelligent through-ball.
Oscar then danced his way through a myriad of tackles but poked his effort just wide of the top corner as the Blues looked to add to their lead, whilst at the other end, with half-time looming, the visitors finally employed Begovic, who made a comfortable save from Luke Williams’ tame attempt.
The second half lacked the same attacking intent and the visibly dipping energy levels of the hosts allowed Scunthorpe to gain something of a foothold as they battled for parity. Referee Craig Pawson made a good decision not to award the away side a penalty when Kevin van Veen theatrically tumbled on the edge of penalty area following minimal contact, whilst Ramires attempted to dispel the growing unrest amongst the Stamford Bridge faithful but could only drag his drive from 25 yards well wide of Daniels’ goal.
But any threat of an unlikely Scunthorpe equaliser were abated when Loftus-Cheek, in trademark Frank Lampard fashion, arrived late to sweep home Cesar Azpilicueta’s pull back to effectively confirm Chelsea’s passage to the next round.
The youngster’s passionate celebration was one of a man who had waited a long time for that moment of individual glory, and Chelsea supporters will hope for more to come from this precocious talent.
Loftus-Cheek was joined by Kenedy and later Betrand Traore, but it was the visitors who almost had the final word, with the impressive Jordan Clarke marauding forward from right-back to smash in a shot from fully twenty yards. Begovic did well to claw the defender’s effort onto the frame of the goal, and despite the visitors trying to ensure they could at least take the comfort of a consolation goal back home with them up the A1, Begovic held firm to secure the side’s third consecutive clean sheet across all competitions.