London: Demba Ba sent Chelsea into the FA Cup semi-finals with a 1-0 victory over Manchester United on Monday, keeping his team on course for a cup double to make amends for a lackluster Premier League campaign.
The quarter-final replay came to life four minutes into the second half when Ba exquisitely hooked the ball over goalkeeper David De Gea to set up a Wembley Stadium meeting with Manchester City. While Chelsea also have a Europa League quarter-final on Thursday, United are left only with the Premier League, where they hold a seemingly insurmountable 15-point lead. United were denied an equaliser when Petr Cech pulled off a stunning one-handed save to block Javier Hernandez's close-range header.
Chelsea held on to produce the perfect response to Saturday's loss at Southampton, which saw the team drop to fourth in the league.
Although Chelsea are on course for a fifth FA Cup triumph in seven seasons, the priority for the club is still securing a top four finish - and Champions League qualification. However, the win puts interim manager Rafa Benitez, who is only under contract until the end of the season, closer to getting a trophy to show for his short spell at Stamford Bridge.
Despite a long-running feud with United manager Alex Ferguson, the pair did shake hands before and after the game. But the atmosphere in the stands was toxic from the start. Boos greeted United defender Rio Ferdinand's name when it was read out before kickoff, as was most touches during the game.
The response by United fans was to chant about Chelsea captain John Terry, making clear references to his ban for racially abusing Ferdinand's brother, Anton, during a match at Queens Park Rangers last season. Terry was on the bench - one of seven changes from the side that lost at Southampton, while Ashley Cole, who was rested on Saturday, pulled up after just 20 minutes with a hamstring injury that will keep him out for two weeks.
It was the only noteworthy incident until that point, with little action in either goalmouth. There wasn't even a shot on goal for 31 minutes, with Eden Hazard eventually breaking forward and releasing Ba, whose shot was turned away by De Gea's left outstretched foot. Hazard had a chance after playing a one-two with Oscar but the Belgium winger blasted it over, while Cech scooped a shot from Hernandez clear with his right foot. There was little De Gea could do to keep out the eventual match-winner.
Mata lobbed a pass over the United defense and Ba raced past Ferdinand and hooked a volley over De Gea while almost sideways in the air. United pushed for the equaliser but were thwarted by Cech's superb save that even had Hernandez congratulating the Czech Republic goalkeeper.
Antonio Valencia surged forward and whipped in a cross that Hernandez met with a diving header that appeared to be heading into the net before Cech tipped over with his left hand.
At the other end, a mistake by United midfielder Michael Carrick - inadvertently turning the ball toward own goal - nearly gifted Chelsea a second. But after breaking clear of Phil Jones, Hazard stabbed the ball wide. United were without striker Wayne Rooney due to a groin injury while Robin van Persie didn't come off the bench until the second half.
Van Persie squandered his best chance to equalise when he made a poor connection with Patrice Evra's late cross, shooting high when unmarked in a central position. Chelsea will now play Manchester City on April 14 at Wembley, a day after Wigan take on Millwall in the other semi-final.