MATCH REPORT: CHELSEA 1 QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0
As in the FA Cup meeting between the clubs in January 2008, a single goal was enough for a narrow but deserved Chelsea win.
The deciding moment came just after the break and it was scored by Salomon Kalou, a precise finish after he had been set on his way by Joe Cole.
The second-half was the brighter of the two, and contained the best chances with QPR keeper Tom Heaton denying the Blues with a couple of good stops.
As in their previous visit to the Bridge, Rangers, though quite solid, showed limited ability to pressure our goal.
The Chelsea pre-match promise to select players returning from injury plus some Academy products was upheld in a starting line-up containing three full debutants.
The midfield was packed full of first team experience, Cole playing his first match since January at the front of the diamond.
Up front, 18-year-old Fabio Borini (pictured below) continued on from his sub appearance against Spurs with a starting position alongside Salomon Kalou.
It took 95 seconds for Chelsea to register the first shot on target, Malouda striking into the keeper's midriff after Kalou had made strides down the middle.
On six minutes Kalou drove a similar effort from an angle at Heaton, those two attempts sandwiching energetic QPR advances down the Chelsea flanks.
On nine minutes came the first moment of really quality in the game and it was one of the new faces feeding the other, Borini heading a superbly-struck near-post cross by Zhirkov (below) just off-target. The Italian held his head, knowing how good a chance it had been to open his account.
Quarter-of-an-hour in, Buzasky for the visitors struck a speculative effort over at the Matthew Harding End to keep the 6,000 QPR fans at the other end lively.
For the next 15 minutes, Chelsea enjoyed superiority territorially and in possession but a way could not be found through the red and black hooped backline, although Joe Cole began to demand and receive more of the ball.
Borini had a snapshot blocked and Malouda drilled a shot across the drizzle-dampened turf and into the side-netting.
Then Cole didn't make decent contact when a Ferreira cross dropped to him in a difficult position in front of the near post.
QPR were finding space on the right of the Chelsea defence but continued to be restricted to long-range efforts, Hilario stopping a Vine shot 10 minutes before the break.
Chelsea had a long-range strike of our own in stoppage time before the break after Kalou was fouled 35-yards out. In the absence of the usual three free-kick takers, Belletti applied a Brazilian thump to the ball but Heaton pulled off an ungainly save at the top corner.
That was a close as anyone had come to scoring. A step-up in quality would be needed second-half to avoid extra time.
To facilitate that, Lampard was a half-time switch for Malouda but before the vice-captain could make an impact, a Vine pass unpicked the Chelsea defence and the speedy Wayne Routledge was chasing through. Hilario was alert and did well to win the race.
It was another Routledge attack that was the prelude to Chelsea's goal. The winger had charged past Ferreira but Hutchinson was in place to take command and set the Blues on the attack. The ball was worked via Mikel on to Joe Cole who did excellently to maintain possession under pressure before spinning a pass out to Kalou.
Onside, the Ivorian cut inside and struck a shot low beyond Heaton and in off the far post.
That was on 51 minutes and six minutes later, Borini, beginning to show a good burst of acceleration, ran onto a Mikel pass and beyond Gorkass before forcing a near-post save from the keeper.
The Italian also out-paced centre-half Stewart in the next attack as he began to settle down.
Buzsaky called upon Hilario to make a diving save with a dipping drive as QPR attempted to retaliate.
The next sub was Terry for Hutchinson (below) who received a noisy round of applause. The defender who had such a rotten time with injury the previous two seasons can be proud of his night.
Just before that change, Belletti went on a tremendous 50-yard run that nearly ended with Stewart diverting the cross into his own net.
On 84 minutes it took a blinding save (almost literally with it hitting the keeper in the face) to deny Joe Cole a comeback goal after a tidy exchange of passes with Kalou.
The final minutes were a safe closing to the game for Chelsea, a corner conceded was the one moment of hope for the visitors from W12..
The win, in front of 37,781 spectators, equalled Chelsea's 23-game unbeaten record, previously set between January and May 2007.
Our fourth round opponents will be drawn this Saturday lunchtime.
Chelsea (4-diamond-2): Hilario; Ferreira, Hutchinson (Terry 77), Ivanovic, Zhirkov (A Cole 68); Mikel; Belletti, Malouda (Lampard h-t); J Cole (c); Kalou, Borini.
QPR (4-4-2): Heaton; Borrowdale, Gorkss, Stewart, Leigertwood; Routledge, Rowlands (c) (Ephram 73),Buzsaky, Faurlin; Vine (Taarabt 65), Simpson (Pellicori 73).
Phone Chelsea TV straight after the game with your comments on the action or watch the full 90 minutes from 10.15pm.