The Blues will be in the bowl when the draw for the fifth round of the FA Cup is made on Monday evening thanks to one goal in each half of Saturday evening’s game on Humberside.
Michy Batshuayi fired us into an early lead and Frank Lampard’s team controlled much of the first half that followed, although Hull loosened our grip on the game before half-time and then came storming out after it to create chances of their own.
Once again, it looked like the Blues might pay the price for a lack of ruthlessness in our play in the attacking third of the pitch but those concerns eased when Fikayo Tomori headed in from a set-piece to make it 2-0 midway through the second half, against a club where he spent a year on loan.
Hull however scored from a free-kick to ensure we could not relax in the final 15 minutes but unlike Arsenal in our midweek game, they could not find a second equaliser.
This victory has the added bonus of ensuring our players will have their full two-week winter break next month. Had a replay been needed against Hull it would have eaten into that.
Just one goal to show from a first half on top
It took the Londoners only six minutes to take the lead and dampen the home crowd’s spirits in East Yorkshire. The danger began when Cesar Azpilicueta was allowed plenty of space to cross, with the ball eventually falling to Mason Mount. The midfielder’s shot was blocked but it came back to Batshuayi who did find the net, via a deflection off a Tigers defender.
Having scored with his first shot in the game, the Belgian then hit the side-netting from a tight angle but a better chance fell to Ross Barkley, slipped in by a ball through the middle by Mount, but the no.8’s shot hit Hull goalie George Long.
The home side were trying to attack when they could through their speedy man on their left, Mallik Wilks, and he did test our defences with a couple of crosses, but down the same flank Callum Hudson-Odoi became an increasing influence on the game.
Batshuayi bullied Hull off the ball on a couple of occasions but he did not react when Mount sent a sumptuous ball across the face of goal as the game approached a third of the way through.
Mount was having a good first half but he should have scored after a great pass by Kovacic. One of his touches was too strong, allowing Long to close and block, and then we overworked another move inside the Hull penalty area moments later.
The Humberside side gave the Blues some defending to do approaching half-time, a source of hope for them for the second half, but it was Chelsea, through Azpilicueta, who drew another save from Long on the stroke of half-time.
Lampard must have been pretty happy with how his side had played in the first half, but given the way the last couple of games ended, he would have wished for more than a one-goal cushion.
Soaking it up
We gave the Tigers a sniff right at the start of the second half from a free-kick but although they sent it wide, it set the tone.
Jarrod Bowen got behind Marcos Alonso to win a corner before sloppy play and miscommunication almost gave their centre-forward Tom Eaves an opportunity.
The pressure stayed on the visitors. There is no doubt the first 15 minutes of the second period belonged to Hull.
Bowen got away from Alonso and broke through the middle but shot over. That was our opponents’ best chance yet.
How frustrating it must have been for the home side and their fans that less than five minutes after that, we released some of the pressure by scoring our second goal from a free-kick. It was Barkley who took it, sending the ball with pace towards the far post where Tomori skilfully headed just inside the near post.
Having gone 2-0 up, Pedro went close twice and must have been ruing the second miss especially when Hull pulled a goal back via a free-kick from Kamil Grosicki, which took a hefty deflection off our defensive wall on its way to the net.
Alonso came close to restoring the two-goal cushion but although some hurried defending was needed near the end, the goals from Batshuayi and Tomori proved enough.
Jumping the fourth-round hurdle
This stage of the FA Cup has mostly been good to Chelsea in recent years and this is the 24th time we have reached round five in the last 27 attempts. The Blues have now won eight straight games against Hull in league and cup.
The boss confirmed yesterday that Willy Caballero and Michy Batshuayi would be the two players at the back and the front of his team and he made eight changes in all from the Premier League draw against Arsenal. The centre-back pairing of Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori, who had played together regularly earlier in the season, were reunited with Marcos Alonso fit to play for the first time since we beat Tottenham in the last game before Christmas.
The front three was the same as in the previous round against Forest.
Who staked a case?
Lampard said this game was a chance for all those selected who have not been playing regularly to build a case for more match minutes, and it is likely he is pleased with the contribution from winning goalscorer Tomori at both ends of the pitch. He was able to give more minutes too to 18-year-old Billy Gilmour before the end and the player showed confidence.
There is another free midweek ahead and then there is an important Premier League match at lunchtime on Saturday when we play Leicester away, with the Foxes one place and eight points ahead of us in the table.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Caballero; Azpilicueta (c), Zouma, Tomori, Alonso; Barkley, Kovacic, Mount (Willian 68); Hudson-Odoi (Gilmour 68), Batshuayi, Pedro (Lamptey 90+1).
Unused subs Cumming, Christensen, Emerson, Maatsen.
Scorers Batshuayi 6, Tomori 64
Booked Kovacic 46, Zouma 90
Hull (4-2-3-1): Long; Lichaj (c), Tafazolli, Burke, McKenzie; Kane, Da Silva Lopes; Wilks (Grosicki 60), Bowen, Honeyman (Samuelsen 68); Eaves (MacEnnis 68).
Unused subs Ingram, Mclaughlin, Kingsley, Irvine.
Scorer Grosicki 78
Booked Lichaj 63
Referee Craig Pawson