Chelsea gave Guus Hiddink the perfect farewell present as Frank Lampard’s goal clinched a 2-1 win over Everton in Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley.
Blues interim boss Hiddink resumes his role as Russia coach on a full-time basis in June but he will always be fondly remembered at Stamford Bridge after leading Chelsea to their first trophy for two years.
Everton had made the perfect start when Louis Saha struck after just 25 seconds to claim the fastest goal in FA Cup final history.
But Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba headed Chelsea level midway through the first half before Lampard’s long-range effort sealed his club’s fifth FA Cup success and ensured Hiddink would leave on a high.
It was also a memorable day for Chelsea defender Ashley Cole, who became the first player for more than 100 years to earn five FA Cup winners’ medals.
Hiddink, who is set to return to the head coaching job for the Russian national side, said that it was the inherent spirit of the side that had seen them prevail.
“We are very demanding on each other but that is a strength,” said the Dutchman.
“They know how to react when they are on the back foot. That is why I like them. It hasn’t just been an in between job for me, it has been more than that. This is one of my biggest adventures, to win at football’s mecca is quite something.”
His Everton counterpart David Moyes conceded that the right team had lifted the trophy.
“Chelsea were the better team,” said the Scotsman, who was named League Manager Association (LMA) manager of the year earlier this week.
“However, we made a semi-final last year and now a final this year and the guys are growing in stature out there.”
For Drogba it meant a welcome high after having been lambasted following his outburst when Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona.
“I am really delighted,” gasped Drogba.
“It took a lot of effort. We needed to win a trophy this season. We just had to believe in our expectations. Guus Hiddink has transformed us.”
Lampard said that his trbute when he scored was for his mother, who died last year.
“We showed a lot of character and dominated the match after half-time,” said Lampard.
“The winning goal tribute was how my father (Frank senior) celebrated when he scored a rare goal. My mother would have appreciated it.”
While Chelsea celebrated their first silverware of the post-Jose Mourinho era, Everton were left with the nagging sense of an opportunity missed.
It is over 20 years since Everton were last a major force in English football but this season has offered renewed hope that a club often forced to play second fiddle to local rivals Liverpool can finally emerge from the shadows.
Even so, Toffees boss David Moyes knew they needed a victory in a major showpiece to confirm their return as an elite side.
Moyes’ decision to start with Saha instead of midfielder Jack Rodwell underlined his determination to take the game to Chelsea and he was rewarded for his boldness after only 25 seconds.
When Steven Pienaar lofted a cross into the penalty area, John Obi Mikel could only loop a header towards Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian flicked back across to Saha and his superb volley flashed past Petr Cech at his near post.
In the blink of an eye, Saha, who missed out on playing in four FA Cup finals over the last 10 years, had scored the final’s quickest ever goal, beating the previous record of 30 seconds set by Aston Villa’s Bob Chatt in 1895.
Chelsea had been caught cold. It was as if they had been distracted after waking to accusations from former player Claude Makelele about Blues captain John Terry’s role in Mourinho’s departure.
Whatever part Terry played in Mourinho’s exit, Chelsea had rarely been the same until Hiddink arrived in February to breathe new life into a stagnating squad.
Florent Malouda was causing no end of problems for Everton down the left wing and, in the 21st minute, Tony Hibbert granted the winger space to whip over a cross that Drogba, out-jumping Joleon Lescott, headed past Tony Howard for his fifth goal in five FA and League Cup finals.
That was the signal for Everton to retreat into their shell. With Lampard and Michael Essien dominating midfield, Chelsea took control.
Moyes responded by hauling off Hibbert at the interval, with Lars Jacobsen sent on for the right-back.
Despite the sweltering heat, both teams tried to play at a high tempo and Moyes’ men began to rediscover their rhythm.
Tim Cahill, the first Australian to play in two FA Cup finals, was pushed further forward and tested Cech with an ambitious effort.
Then Saha narrowly cleared the crossbar with a bullet header from Leighton Baines’ cross.
But Chelsea can never be counted out when Lampard is in the team. In the 72nd minute, the England midfielder cut inside Phil Neville to work space for a swerving shot that Howard could only help into the net.