Chelsea stunned Aston Villa with a 3-1 win to march on in the FA Cup and ease the pressure on Mauricio Pochettino.
Enzo Fernandez’s sensational free-kick added to first-half goals from Conor Gallagher and Nicolas Jackson.
Moussa Diaby’s injury-time strike failed to ruin Chelsea’s night and the Blues now host Leeds in the fifth round.
Having been humbled 4-2 by Wolves and thumped 4-1 by Liverpool in their two previous games there was an expectation Chelsea would lurch further into crisis in their fourth-round replay at Villa Park.
Instead, while fans sung for former owner Roman Abramovich, their side rolled back the years with a dominant performance akin to those during the Russian’s reign.
With progress in the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup final against Liverpool to come at the end of the month, despite a wretched Premier League campaign Chelsea could still salvage success.
For Villa, Unai Emery had already labelled this week – with Manchester United visiting on Sunday – as crucial to their hopes as they challenge for the top four.
But with a second straight home defeat – coming after inconsistent home displays against Sheffield United and Burnley – there will be rightful questions over Villa’s staying power.
Initially, the hosts listened to the manager’s words and there were alarm bells for Chelsea in the opening three minutes when John McGinn roughed up Axel Disasi before Alex Moreno fluffed his lines.
Half chances for Cole Palmer and Fernandez hardly hinted at what was to come and it took just 10 minutes for the Chelsea fans to chant Abramovich’s name – yet a minute later the visitors struck.
Jackson teased his way into the area to find Noni Madueke, a constant bright spark for the visitors, and the forward had enough presence of mind to hold the ball up for Gallagher.
There was still plenty for the midfielder to do but he avoided the massed ranks to pick out the top corner from 16 yards.
Villa sought an instant reply and Leon Bailey shot at Djordje Petrovic, with the goalkeeper also turning Ollie Watkins’ drive over.
The hosts’ 11-month unbeaten home league run ended last week, a 3-1 defeat to Newcastle, but they would have expected better against a fractured Chelsea who had lost six of their last seven away outings.
Yet, with the lead, Pochettino’s side came to life and doubled their advantage with an excellent, flowing, move after 21 minutes.
It was built down right with Disasi and Madueke involved before Malo Gusto was released to brilliantly cross for Jackson, who directed a precise header into the corner.
As against Newcastle, Villa were falling apart with Chelsea exploiting the flanks. Madueke continued to taunt the hosts and his strong run ended with Emi Martinez pushing away Palmer’s effort.
Petrovic tipped McGinn’s drive over in stoppage time after Ben Chilwell’s foul throw saw Villa break but it was a rare moment of concern for the visitors.
The hosts needed a response but – just like against Newcastle – they conceded a third soon after the break.
Fernandez may have been fortunate to earn a free kick while being shadowed by Youri Tielemans but there was nothing lucky about his 25-yard strike which arched into the top corner.
With a cushion Chelsea eased off which gave Villa brief cause for optimism but they never launched a recovery, despite Diaby’s stoppage time consolation.
Published: by Radio NewsHub