MATCH REPORT: CHELSEA 1 STOKE CITY 0
A brilliant free-kick from Oscar in the first half was enough to send us through to the fifth round of the FA Cup, as we recorded a seventh consecutive win in all competitions.
A strong Chelsea performance probably merited more goals, with Oscar and Andre Schurrle hitting woodwork either side of the break. Frank Lampard, going clear as our second-highest appearance-maker in this competition, also went close on three separate occasions.
Stoke nearly levelled soon after Oscar's fabulous opener but Stephen Ireland could only find the side-netting from close range. It was the closest they would come on an afternoon when Nemanja Matic made his full Chelsea debut, the Serbian impressing in midfield with his aerial power and tidiness in possession.
We face Manchester City away in the next round, due to be played the weekend of the 15/16 February.
Matic's first start was alongside the returning Lampard in central midfield. Our skipper for the day's 58th FA Cup game in a blue shirt moved him ahead of Peter Bonetti and six behind Ron Harris as the Chelsea player to have appeared most in this famous competition.
They were two of five changes Mourinho made from the side that defeated Manchester United so comfortably last Sunday. Cup specialist Mark Schwarzer started between the sticks, while David Luiz dropped back into central defence at the expense of John Terry. Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole lined up at full-back, meaning Cesar Azpilicueta began on the bench for only the second time in 10 games. Samuel Eto'o retained his place following his treble last week, and he was supported by Hazard, Oscar and Andre Schurrle, the German starting for the first time since the League Cup defeat at Sunderland before Christmas.
For Stoke, Mark Hughes made four alterations from his team's last outing, a 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace, including the return of Asmir Begovic in goal, who had recovered from a broken finger sustained on Christmas Day. There was also a recall for Stephen Ireland, scorer of the Potters' second goal against us last month.
Within 100 seconds of kick-off at a blustery Stamford Bridge Eto'o almost continued from where he left off last weekend. Receiving a pass from Hazard with his back to goal, the Cameroonian spun and shot in one movement, but his well-struck left-footed effort flashed just wide of the scrambling Begovic's goal.
Those two almost combined again a minute later but this time Hazard's teasing cross was a touch overhit, and it was our visitors, through Peter Crouch, who threatened next. First, the lanky striker got his head to Jon Walters's cross before our backline, including Schwarzer, but under serious pressure from David Luiz missed the target by some distance. Then an awkward-looking volley on the turn was again well wide.
We might have done better from a promising counter-attacking siutaiton with 15 gone. Arnautovic had given the ball away cheaply in midfield - much to Mark Hughes's chagrin - giving Hazard the opportunity to thread an incisive pass through to Eto'o. The striker teed up Oscar who in turn played it on to Schurrle, but the recovering Shawcross got across well to deny the German before he could shoot.
A decent spell of Chelsea pressure close to the Stoke goal ended with Eto'o being felled from behind, 25 yards out. Oscar took free-kick responsibility ahead of the lurking David Luiz and Lampard, and it was a decision that was rewarded in some style. Our no.11 arched his strike from right to left, well clear of the wall. Though it was destined for Begovic's side of the goal, the ball was so well-placed, and hit with such venom, that the Bosnian didn't stand a chance.
Steven Nzonzi registered Stoke's first shot on target of the day with 33 minutes played, but it was hit from so far out Schwarzer wasn't overly troubled.
Then came a mad 120 seconds of play as the game opened up in dramatic fashion. Hazard made space for himself with some more wizardry out wide, beguiling a couple of Potters before flashing the ball across the face of the goal. It looked like Lampard, making a customary dart from deep, was going to turn it in for his 250th club goal but the ball just skidded beyond his outstretched leg.
Stoke broke and Ireland was played in, via a Lampard touch - our midfielder having raced back to offer his support in defence - but the Irishman's shot went the right side, from a Chelsea perspective, of Schwarzer's near post. It was our first real let off of the afternoon.
Play quickly moved back down the other end, and Hazard played in Oscar with much of the Stoke rearguard seemingly AWOL. The Brazilian set himself nicely and thrashed a shot past Begovic for the second time today, but unfortunately this time it thudded against the post and ran clear.
That spelled a strong end to the half for the Blues. Lampard did latch on to a cross from out on the right this time, connecting well with Ivanovic's driven delivery, but his left-footed half-volley whistled over. Then after more fine work from Oscar - the Brazilian a constant threat - Eto'o nearly wriggled free but was eventually crowded out by a sea of red and white.
Frank Blunstone, a veteran of the 1954/55 Championship-winning side, received a warm reception at half-time, and our former winger would have been proud of our present day wideman Schurrle's effort just after the restart. Matic skilfully found Oscar, who in turn passed it on to Schurrle. In front of the Matthew Harding Stand, the German drove at the Stoke defence before making space for a shot, which cannoned back off the top of the post and away to safety.
Those two linked up again with 52 gone. This time it was Schurrle's turn to set up Oscar, but he curled just wide with Begovic diving anxiously on.
With a number of Chelsea chances to double our advantage having now not been taken, Mourinho would have been relieved to see two Stoke efforts in quick succession miss Schwarzer's goal. Firstly Walters fired wide following good approach play from Nzonzi, before Arnautovic swerved a 25-yard free-kick over the wall but off target.
In possession, Stoke were operating a relatively attacking 4-2-3-1 formation, but when we had the ball, it reverted to something more resembling a 4-5-1 shape, with just Crouch left ahead of the ball. That meant space in the final third was severely limited, though Hazard nearly prized an opening with a cut-in from the left that has become his trademark. Frustratingly, no player in blue anticipated his clever slide-rule through pass.
It was from this slightly more advanced position that Lampard brought the best out of Begovic, chesting the ball into his path and striking clean and low, but the Stoke stopper got down well to hold on. Then Hazard raced past two or three Potters, keeping his balance beautifully as he went, before nudging the ball into a danger area. It ricocheted off the back of Ramires's heels to Eto'o barely four yards from goal, but the ball got caught under his feet and when he did finally steer an effort goalwards, it trickled agonisingly wide.
Ramires tumbled in the box under the challenge of Pieters but referee Foy saw nothing in it, but the man in black did award us a free-kick when the Brazilian was cynically halted in his tracks 20 yards from goal by Pieters. David Luiz's set-piece strike was a thunderbolt, which Begovic anticipated expertly to tip over his bar.
That was the final goalmouth action of a satisfying afternoon for the Blues, who have now not lost at home in open play in this competition since March 2003, 27 games ago. The fifth round beckons, where we will face Manchester City away, three weeks from now.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Ivanovic, Cahill, David Luiz, Cole; Lampard (c), Matic; Schurrle (Ramires 69), Oscar (Willian 81), Hazard; Eto'o (Ba 84).
Unused subs Cech, Azpilicueta, Terry, Mikel.
Scorer Oscar 27
Stoke (4-1-4-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross (c), Wilson, Pieters (Muniesa 84); Palacios (Assaidi 71); Arnautovic (Adam 82), Ireland, Nzonzi, Walters; Crouch.
Unused subs Sorensen, Shotton, Whelan, Guidetti.
Booked Cameron 31, Wilson 45+1, Pieters 82.
Referee Chris Foy