AFTER watching England’s cricketers slip to a pitiful Test defeat in Barbados, Steve Bruce’s hopes of viewing some sporting sunshine thousands of miles away back home hit a cold front.
But while the Sheffield Wednesday side who he will officially start work with on Friday failed to produce a major FA Cup shock to further obliterate London’s footballing establishment - following the fourth-round exits of Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham – there was at least one element to keep out the chill.
It was at Hull City that Bruce was provided with first-hand evidence of the potential of Wednesday, whose 42,000 fans – who vastly outnumbered their Tigers counterparts at the Championship play-off final in May 2016 were abundant with pride and passion in a losing cause.
That moment is likely to have stayed in Bruce’s mind and seduced him into his decision to accept the challenge of trying to stir one of English football’s grand old clubs back into footballing life.
The non-stop backing of 5,917 Wednesday followers – just down the road from Wembley – on a Sunday night at a ridiculous kick-off time will have further crystallised his decision and the footballing romantic in him.
A brief VAR controversy aside in the first half – which saw two penalty calls go against the visitors with both decisions proving to be the right calls – the Owls, despite being competitive for fair swathes of the game, failed to lay much of a glove on the holders.
A brief VAR controversy aside in the first half – which saw two penalty calls go against the visitors with both decisions proving to be the right calls – the Owls, despite being competitive for fair swathes of the game, failed to lay much of a glove on the holders.Leon Wobschall
But the passion play of those present from Yorkshire will have indicated to Bruce that providing just a spot or two of hope to his new public will go a long way.
Stamford Bridge may be close to the King’s Road, but the noise in the football cathedral was more akin to Penistone Road as Wednesday’s big support colonised one end of the ground.
But the moments of class came from the hosts when it mattered when the artful pictures painted mostly by Willian.
With Eden Hazard and N’golo Kante given the night off, the gifted Brazilian took centre stage, coolly converting from the spot to put the Blues on their way before rounding things off with a polished strike from distance.
It enabled the Londoners to record their seventh successive FA Cup win over the Owls and you have to go back to 1965-66 for Wednesday’s last success over Chelsea in this competition – a semi-final victory at Villa Park.
Those in Wednesday jerseys could not draw inspiration in their own quest from the likes of goalscorers Jim McCalliog and Graham Pugh – or from those fourth-round feats of Bradford City, who delivered an astounding triumph for Yorkshire at this venue nearly four years to the day.
Oh so briefly, there was a suggestion of an upset just before the mid-way point of the first half when the whole issue of VAR set tongues wagging among a London FA Cup crowd for the second time in 24 hours.
The lack of video technology was the talking point during a controversial awarding of a home goal in Millwall’s tie with Everton – when TV replays would have ruled it out if the New Den was equipped for VAR.
But the facility was on offer across the Thames – and Wednesday suffered twice in the space of four minutes.
Both decisions, on inspection, were the correct calls, yet it was hard not to feel for the Owls.
First, a quick dart into the box by Joey Pelupessy caught Chelsea momentarily off guard, with Andre Marriner quick to point to the spot after the Dutchman tumbled following a despairing late-ditch challenge from Ethan Ampadu.
Replays showed that the saving tackle did ensure that he made a clean contact with the ball first and not Pelupessy, with the decision overturned, although it was a mystery as to why a drop-ball was given and not a corner.
With Wednesdayites displaying their displeasure for VAR in song, it was soon called upon again – to confirm that Marriner’s decision to award a penalty at the other end after Sam Hutchinson’s injudicious challenge on Cesar Azpilicueta was the right call.
Willian was not sort to pass up such a gift as he coolly sent Keiren Westwood the wrong way to give Chelsea - with their stellar loan arrival Gonzalo Higuain on parade – the breakthrough.
No further damage arrived by the interval as Wednesday maintained their organisation to remain in the contest, but there was venom in the boos towards Marriner – from fans not afforded the benefit of TV replays.
Wednesday’s best moment arrived early on when Adam Reach’s deflected shot was held by Willy Caballero.
The winger also gave Chelsea a scare soon after the resumption when his cross struck the bar.
The tie was effectively sealed on 64 minutes when Andreas Christiansen threaded a pinpoint diagonal pass to Callum Hudson-Odoi, who cut inside Morgan Fox before unleashing a fierce shot.
Barry Bannan was not too far away from a consolation with a long-ranger before Willian’s elegance provided some blue gloss.
A exchange with substitute Oliver Giroud ended with a cracking angled finish. And still those in the away end sang.
Chelsea: Caballero, Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Christensen, Alonso, Kovacic, Ampadu (Loftus-Cheek 65), Barkley (Jorginho 84), Hudson-Odoi, Higuain (Giroud 82), Willian. Subs Not Used: Arrizabalaga,Pedro,Luiz,Emerson Palmieri.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood, Palmer, Lees, Thorniley, Fox, Reach, Pelupessy (Forestieri 69), Hutchinson, Bannan, Boyd (Nuhiu 75), Fletcher (Lucas Joao 76). Subs Not Used: Matias, Baker, Dawson, Pudil.
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).