As Guus Hiddink stood clasping the FA Cup on a sweltering May afternoon at Wembley he could reflect on a job very well done. When he took charge of Chelsea in February the club was in danger of going into free fall. But the Dutchman has ended his short tenure at the club in the best possible fashion, winning the club’s fifth FA Cup and their first trophy for two years.
Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard were the heroes on the day as the Blues recovered from an absolutely disastrous start.
Most inside Wembley had hardly got to their seats when - from Marouane Fellaini’s header - Louis Saha lashed the ball past Petr Cech after just 25 seconds to send the Everton fans into ecstasy. It is the fastest goal in FA Cup Final history.
Chelsea seemed unable to settle, with Alex in particular looking nervy. But as time wore on they composed themselves, and began to gain possession and exert some control over proceedings.
Tony Hibbert picked up the game’s first yellow card for taking down Florent Malouda. Lampard rather carelessly blasted the resulting free kick high over the bar.
Michael Essien followed suit a couple of minutes later, but then parity was restored and inevitably it was Drogba who got the goal. The Ivorian lost Joleon Lescott and headed the ball past Tim Howard from Malouda’s left wing cross. It kept up his extraordinary record of scoring in every domestic cup final he has appeared in.
The momentum had swung in Chelsea’s favour, and Ashley Cole could have added a second when he broke into the box, but wildly shot wide.
Hibbert was hauled of by David Moyes at half time and replaced by Lars Jacobsen after a less than sparkling first half performance. Malouda was a constant threat and the Scot seemed unable to stop the winger.
But the change had little effect - Hiddink’s side still looked in the ascendency. Malouda volleyed over and Saha had a rare chance for Everton, but he couldn’t find the target.
After an hour Nicolas Anelka attempted to lob Howard, but put too much into his effort and it went over the bar.
Shortly afterwards Hiddink made his first substitution, sending Michael Ballack on in place of the subdued Essien.
Having had little to do in the second half, Cech had to be alert to keep out a fizzing shot from Tim Cahill.
Saha then had a glorious chance to put his side back into the lead. Leighton Baines whipped a free kick into the box and Saha rose to head over the top, Chelsea breathed a sigh of relief.
That relief then turned to sheer joy as Lampard struck what turned out to be the winning goal.
Collecting Ballack’s pass, the England international turned Neville and hit a strike that found its way past Howard, despite the American stopper getting a hand to it.
One corner of Wembley erupted and Lampard ran to the corner flag and around it, a copy of his father’s celebration when he scored against Everton for West Ham in the semi final stage of this competition in 1980.
An Everton response never seemed likely after that hammer blow. Indeed, the deficit could and should have been greater when Malouda let fly from 35 yards out and struck the crossbar. The ball bounced down and over the line, but Howard Webb didn’t give it.
Not that it mattered. Chelsea played out time and secured a fully deserved cup triumph. Guus Hiddink will return to Russia with the warm words of both supporters and players ringing in his ears.
Many Chelsea fans would have been happy with a top four finish when he took the reigns in West London. He departs having left an indelible mark on a football club that faces another period of change and upheaval. But for now they can savour the return of the winning feeling they had grown so accustomed to experiencing under Jose Mourinho.