So here is Chelsea's first chance to prove that it was all AVB's fault. That that husky-voiced young interloper was so incompetent he made a perfectly dynamic bunch of footballers look washed-up and run-down. Will Roberto Di Matteo acknowledge the wisdom of the dressing room and pick the line-up that it dictates? Surely, for instance, he won't repeat the blunder of omitting Super Frankie Lampard? Of the 10 matches that Chelsea lost under Villas-Boas, Lord Lamps only featured in, um, 10. Hang on, that means Villas-Boas was unbeaten without Lampard!
Petr Cech played in nine of those 10 defeats; Ashley Cole played in eight of them; John Terry played in six and was injured for the others; Didier Drogba played in five and got the same number of goals from open play as he got red cards; Fernando Torres writes his own punchlines. So the question, Roman, is the following: are you sure you got rid of the right person?
Birmingham arrive at St Andrews tonight with lots of injury problems, which means AVB-free Chelsea should canter to victory, after which Chris Hughton should obviously be sacked on the spot. But what if Brum win? Then sack Roberto Di Matteo and hire a new caretaker; keep going like that and Roman will eventually find someone who'll tell him what's what. Oh, he already did, and that guy was ushered out of the Bridge too … and went on to win the Champions League with Inter and possibly Real Madrid soon too. So Roman, this mbm drone has no more advice to offer. But you're not reading this anyway, are you? And you're going to wind up appointing dear JT and Lamps as your dream manager-combo, aren't you?
No Lampard! No Cole! This has all the makings of caretaker managerial suicide! Or so Jamie Redknapp might say. Is this a sign of things to come from Di Matteo or is this a special 'FA Cup against lower league oppposition' selection? Either way, it's going to be interesting seeing Ryan Bertrand and it's a pity that Romelu Lukaku hasn't got a start, though perhaps this, at last, will be the game where Torres recovers his mojo. Any takers on that one?
Birmingham: Doyle, Spector, Ibanez, Davies, N'Daw, Redmond, Mutch, Gomis, Elliott, Rooney, Zigic.
Subs: Myhill, Burke, King, Valles, Reilly, Jervis, Packwood.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Bertrand, Ramires,
Mikel, Meireles, Kalou, Torres, Mata. Subs: Hilario, Essien,
Lampard, Drogba, Lukaku, Sturridge, Terry.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)
A quibble: "Those players you mention in the preamble have a combined 15 league titles and about 18 FA Cups," whimpers Nicholas, to which I offer a two-word reply. But which two-word reply? I'll go for this one: "past glories".
Here: My colleague Jacob Steinberg has sent me this picture. How long before Chelsea fans are backtracking on that request? Oh, and by the way, a startlingly irate emailer named Bernard Keeling has demanded that I point out, again, that Birmingham are fielding a lot of fringe players tonight. I better do it in case he combust.
7:35pm: Roy Keane's is in splendid form on ITV. He made his intenteions clear from the start by saying "some Chelsea players have let their manager down badly" in reference to AVB's grim fate and then when the camers showed the players on the pitch at St Andrews gathering around Mikel to flick him in the ear and generally lark about, Keane thundered that they were "stupid ... childish ... an absolute disgrace." Can I start the "Di Matteo Out! Keane In!" campaign now?
Di Matteo explains his team selection: "I just wanted to freshen up the team a bit". Is he calling those guys on the bench old? Talk likes that gets folks burnt at the stake down Chelsea way ...
Words that have been said before "You would think that today would have to be the day for Torres, if there is to be one," ventures Prateek Chadha. "An opposition from a lower league, a side likely to play the ball into his feet and a new manager (even if he is a caretaker) who has shown more faith in him than some other senior members of the squad."
1 min: Brum kick off and immediately launch long towards Zigic. Well, not quite immediately as he would have been offisde, obviously.
2 min: Torres flicks on and suddenly Mata is scampering into the box ... the keeper comes out ot meet him ... Kalou is baying for a pass that would enable him to tap into the empty net ... but Mata dabs a feeble shot straight at the keeper. Doyle saves.
4 min: N'daw, as Jim Belgin has just pointed out, is being deployed at left-back and Ramires appears to have been assigned to exploiting him. With no effect so far.
6 min: Zigic with a dainty flick (yes, really) through for Rooney, who doesn't fancy his chances of racing into the box so instead tries to square to Redmond, but the pass is misdirected. Birmingham giving as good as they're getting so far.
8 min: My inbox is bulging with tributes to Dr Eva Caneiro, with football fans everywhere apparently pleased to see that she was not swept out with AVB. Clearly her medical knowledge is widely appreciated.
10 min: A very scruffy game so far, with Birmingham looking the more vigorous. They're winning the battles in midfield and Redmond looks lively wide on the left and Zigic seems to be in the mood to be a nuisance up front. No sign of Chelsea imposing any sort of Premier League class yet.
12 min: A lovely counter-attack by Birmingham, the highlight being a nifty exchange between Redmond and Zigic. Unfortunately the teenager (that's Redmond, by the way) miscontrolled just as they worked him into a prime shooting position.
15 min: Zigic's face is bloodied following a clash with Luiz, who flailed his arm in a way that was clumsy at best. "What was amusing about the defeat at West Brom was that AVB selected the team most of the fans probably thought he should," qouth Ian Burch. "Unfortunately Uncle Roy, like many managers this season, was too tactically astute for AVB. Also, teams are no longer that scared of Chelsea. Apart from Sturridge they don't have any players who can trouble opponents. Certainly Keane is right about the players letting AVB down, but it's all a shambles and it serves the club right. I'm not sure if my sides will burst from laughing at them or my head will off first from shaking in despair." I hear you. And on another note, my opinion, which is worth its weight in dodo traps, is that Roy Hodgson should be the next England manager.
17 min: Zigic is still off the pitch as his stigmata is stitched up, so Brum begin defending in depth. They were almost undone by some snappy interplay between Kalou and Ramires, with the latter poking over from 16 yards under pressure from Davies.
20 min: Plenty of noise at a full St Andrews,k adding to the fun. A sarcastic "oooooooooooooh" goes up when a misdirected Spector pass wobbles into Cech's arms. Meanwhile, in twitter, Oliver Kay reports that "Chelsea fans at Birmingham singing "F*** off Benitez, we don't want you here" and chanting for Mourinho".
23 min: Brave defending by David Luiz, who sticks his head where only Kevin Moran would venture to nut the ball clear before Rooney could connect with a flick into the six-yard box.
25 min: Zigic is back in the fray. And his first contribution is to nod the ball on to Elliot, who spins on the edge of the area and hooks a decent shot at goal, but it poses no problem for Cech. "Who's this DIMattio fellow," carps Paul Conyngham. "Looking at the photo that Jacob lent you, are these fans indulging in a bit of pre-SMS-era wrd rdction tcnqs, or did they just run out of sheet for their message? They should have used a double sheet, rather than one of their kids' sheets." Or just thought a little more before starting to write. A feeling I can empathise with, in fairness.
26 min: Nice cross from the right into the Birmingham box ... but it fell to the last person you'd want on the end of it ... and Torres' attempt to trap the ball results in him donking it into the keeper's grateful arms.
27 min: Mutch swings in a freekick from deep. Rooney rises but butts it way wide from 18 yards.
29 min: Zigic, who has seemed to be on a vengenace mission ever since copping that elbow, cops a deserved yellow card for a splenetic late tackle on Cahill.
31 min: Ramires romps past Ndaw down the right and centres for Torres, who attempts to swivel and shoot but is repelled and then knocks it to Kalou's whose shot from outside the box is blocked. Elsewhere, a penny for Daniel Farthing's thoughts? We have ourselves a deal: "here's the perfect solution," emails Daniel. "Wenger for Chelsea (adding fresh young blood to an inherited older squad to reap phenomenal success – sound familiar) and AVB for Arsenal (fresh young ideas applied to an impressionable squad of nippers young enough to regard his 34 years as old & wise)… perfect!"
33 min: Cahill nods wide from a Chelsea corner.
35 min: Chelsea so far seem content to keep Birmingham at arm's length, apparently in the belief that their presumed superior quality will enable them to counter incisively enough, possibly when the hosts tire. "No offence but I'm going to follow the Arsenal mbm instead, that tie seems to be getting interesting!" blurts Luke Crane and roughly 200 other splitters. Now I know how AVB felt.
38 min: Decent bout of pressure by Chelsea but Spector couldn't find a telling cross when given the chance. Chelsea defending well around the box.
40 min: Mutch raids down the right and then delivers a super cross that is rewarded with an equally super header by Zigic. Cech has to scramble backwards to prevent it from looping over him and into the net. Corner for Birmingham, which Meireles eventually clears.
43 min: Good pressure from Chelsea, but Mata's shot at the end of it is straight at Doyle. And you don't beat Doyles that easily.
44 min: Birmingham are having to defend desperately here as Chelsea finally begin to apply serious pressure. And when the visitors finally picked a way through, Torres, after shrugging off Davies impressively, dragged his shot badly wide from 16 yards.
Half-time: Birmingham have played well but Chelsea appear to have surmounted the best that their hosts are going to muster tonight and started to get the upper hand in the last 10 minutes of the half. Bad finishing scuppered several half-chances for them but they'll likely get plenty more in the second half. Birmingham, with Zigic in impressive form, still carry some threat though. Most of you, however, are going to follow the Arsenal comeback/Milan captilation, aren't you? "Just start making stuff up," counsel Philippa Booth. "Any cat/squirrel/dog on the pitch antics will get you loads of hits." Golly, Chelsea appear to warming up a unicorn ...
Half-time pep talk: "I am going to splinter off to the Gunners as well, but if by the slim chance Torres actually pops a goal, please tell Barry to include it in his MBM. It should be in CAPS and BOLD to highlight the seriousness of the event." - Matthew Bathhurst.
"Just out of interest what are the rules on animals playing football [no Lee Cattermole jokes please]. I only ask because if Chelsea want to counteract some of this bad publicity they could do worse than fielding a football-playing golden retriever a la Air Bud. He couldn't be any worse than Torres and his shampoo sponsorships would probably be equally lucrative. Plus dogs are famously loyal so something for the nest manager to think about." - Alex H
46 min: We have resumption. No substitutions during the break. So that unicorn still awaits his big break ...
48 min: Cech hoofs a wonky clearance into the crowd, who jeer lustily. Chelsea fail to pick up Mutch from the throw-in and he is allowed to wriggle to the by-line and win a corner. "Never mind unicorns, Paul, you need that even rarer of creatures, a Torres goal, to capture the popular imagination," squawks Phil Sawyer. "According to myth and legend they used to exist in vast numbers, but now only denizens of a distant red land claim to have recollections that they used to exist."
49 min: Cech punches the corner out of the box ... Davies heads it back in ... Ndaw helps it on ... and Cech intervenes again, this time decisively.
50 min: Kalou slaloms his way into the box before slipping the ball through to Mata, whose shot is blocked brilliantly by Ibanez.
GOAL! Birmingham 0-1 Chelsea (Mata 54') That is just reward for Chelsea's superior play in the second half. Ramires won the ball in midfield, romped forward and then curled a cross in from the right. That provoked chaos in the Brum defence and after a bout of ping-pong, Mata poked it into the net. "A glimpse of a new daws" bawls Peter Drury on ITV rather excitedly.
56 min: Redmond is robbed on the edge of the Chelsea area and suddenly Chelsea are on the counter. Torres has room to gallop down the left but when he attempts a pass towards Kalou he botches it badly.
Chelsea substitution: Kalou off, Sturridge on.
Birmingham substitution: Rooney off, Burke on.
GOAL! Birmingham 0-2 Chelsea (Meireles 60') That's a superb goal! A nice build-up down the right culminated with an Ivanovic corss and then a smart lay-off from Ramires to Meireles, who smashed it into the top corner from 25 yards. That's why AVB liked him so much.
62 min: Notably that Meierles didn't celebrate his goal. Presumably out of solidarity for AVB.
63 min: Torres booked for a late tackle on Spector.
65 min: Ramires has tormented Ndaw tonight and the makeshift left-back decides to get his own back ... by kicking the Brazilian to the ground. Freekick to Chelsea in a promising position.
66 min: Zigic gets back to nod the freekick behind for a corner.
69 min: Chelsea re dominant now. Brum are broken.
PENALTY! Ndaw clumsily brings down Torres. The fans bay for the Spaniard to take it himself ...
70 min: Well, the Spaniard did take it ... and Doyle saved! The Spaniard in question was Mata, who also missed one in the original match.
Birmingham substitution: The hapless Ndaw off, King on.
74 min: Zigic flicks on towards King ... but Cahill slides in to knock the ball to safety just as the striker sized up a shot.
76 min: Lovely interplay down the right between Burke and Elliot forces Chelsea to concede a corner. It is cleared as far as Redmond, who spanks one over from 25 yards.
Chelsea substitution: Ramires off, Chelsea jinx Lampard on.
77 min: Waht a miss! Torres cantered down the right and crossesd for Sturridge, who simply had to tap into the net from five ayrds ... but got the ball caught in his feet.
81 min: Burke splits the Chelsea defence with a wonderful pass to Mutch, who finds himself with only Cech to beat. But the ball bobbles as he hits it, taking his shot high over the bar.
83 min: Birmingham corner as David Luiz deflects a Zigic headear wide. Chelsea clear the set-piece.
86 min: Birmingham are besieging the Chelsea box as they seek to stay in the game but Cahill and David Luiz have repelled them very well.
88 min: No sooner had I praised the Chelsea centrebacks than Cahill nods the ball straight to King, who booms a shot at goal from 20 yards. Cech saves uncomfortably.
Chelsea substitution: Mata off, Essien on.
90 mins: The fourth official has indicated (because that is all they ever do, apparently) that there will be a minimum of three more minutes.
Full-time: Chelsea do the necessary, achieving a deserved victory thanks to some goof defending and two fine goals, particularly the second from Meireles - "an absolute blooter", according to ITV's Peter Drury.