So the farewell tour started with a frightful scare for Chelsea in the humble surroundings of Luton Town followed by a sigh of relief as Romelu Lukaku, the most expensive of all the footballers signed under Roman Abramovich, came to the rescue.
Twelve minutes remains when Lukaku, the club’s £97.5million record signing, turned in a low cross from Timo Werner, who had converted the equaliser to make it 2-2, 10 minutes earlier.
Luton had led twice but their threat was extinguished and Thomas Tuchel’s side move into the FA Cup quarter finals, one of the certainties in an uncertain future after Abramovich declared his intention to the sell the club on Wednesday night.
Under-fire striker Romelu Lukaku saved Premier League giants Chelsea from FA Cup upset
He scored in the 78th minute of the game to secure Chelsea a 3-2 win away from home
Luton Town opened the scoring in the second minute of the game to lead Chelsea 1-0
It was Reece Burke who managed to put the ball passed Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa (above)
‘We heard rumours through the day,’ said Tuchel. ‘We did not talk about it with the players but they have internet connections, they watch TV, they get messages. We are not living on an island.
Luton: Steer 6 (Isted 14, 6); Kioso 6, Burke 6.5, Lockyer 6, Potts 6.5, Bell 6; Mendes Gomes 6.5 (Hylton 76, 6), Osho 6, Berry 7 (Campbell 63, 5); Muskwe (Snodgrass 76, 5), Cornick 7 (Jerome 63, 5).
Subs: Isted, Bree, Naismith, Clark, Thorpe.
Goals: Burke 2, Cornick 40
Manager: Nathan Jones 6
Chelse: Arrizabalaga 6; Callum Hudson-Odoi 5 (Vale 61, 6), Rudiger 7, Loftus-Cheek 7.5, Sarr 5; Jorginho 6 (James 76, 6.5), Saul 7.5, Kenedy 5 (Pulisic 61, 6), Mount 7; Lukaku 7, Werner 8.
Subs: Mendy, Kante, Kovacic, Barkley, Williams, Hall
Goals: Saul 27, Werner 68, Lukaku
Manager: Thomas Tuchel 7
Ref: Peter Bankes 7
‘To play on the same day a match where focus is absolutely key is not so easy and makes it a bigger performance. We showed we were able to do it.’
Chelsea’s head coach said he had not spoken to Abramovich since they were together on the pitch in Abu Dhabi, last month, celebrating the world title.
‘I can only think about Chelsea with Roman Abramovich,’ said Tuchel. ‘I’m not so much worried because I still feel privileged and I hope and trust for the best. I’m not a person who worries about things I cannot influence.
‘It’s big news, it will be big change but I’m never afraid of change and will focus on what I can influence, which is the team and my work at Cobham.’
The statement went public one hour before kick-off at Kenilworth Road, where the corner flags fluttered in Ukrainian colours and Chelsea fans chorused the name of their favourite Russian oligarch before kick-off.
Luton supporters booed in response. There wasn’t a lot of sympathy to be expected from a club that has crashed into non-league, flirted with extinction and climbed back into the Championship in the time since Abramovich arrived in English football.
‘You’re getting sold in the morning,’ crowed the home fans, and confronted Chelsea players when they retrieved the ball to take a throw-in with banners declaring their support for Ukraine as if they might be in some way implicated in the invasion.
Believe what you want from Abramovich, but the part about a sale being the best thing for the club must be true. It will surely ease concerns in the dressing room, even if, in the long term, investment in the squad is likely to diminish.
Here, the quality pulled them through, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek deployed in an unusual role in the centre of Tuchel’s back three, where he did not look comfortable under the high ball but excelled in the second half stepping into midfield with the ball.
Thomas Tuchel’s side responded in the 27th minute with a goal from Saul Niguez (above)
However, Luton’s Harry Cornick (above) levelled the scores again in the 40th minute
Kepa Arrizabalaga was in back goal, three days after his shootout nightmare at Wembley, and things got worse for him before they improved. Kepa was fishing the ball from his net within two minutes as the home side opened with confidence and energy.
Centre-half Reece Burke struck first from Luke Berry’s corner, a glancing header at the near post, flashing across goal and in off the far post.
Luton goalkeeper Jed Steer was carried off having injured an ankle. Steer was replaced by Harry Isted, making his first senior appearance having been released and re-signed, was beaten when Saul Niguez scored his first Chelsea goal, a curling effort after a mistake by Gabe Osho conceded possession and exposed his defence.
Isted stood firm, making fine saves to foil Saul again, Kenedy and Romelu Lukaku before the Championship side sprang out of defence to score their second, five minutes before half time.
Carlos Mendes Gomes released Harry Cornick and his low shot beat Kepa as the ‘keeper dashed from his line.
Timo Werner (above) provide a clam and collected finish to make it 2-2 in the second half
But, it was Romelu Lukaku who ended his goal drought to seal the victory on Wednesday night
Chelsea reacted angrily, claiming Cornick was offside, and referee Peter Bankes brandished his yellow card at Tuchel’s assistant Zsolt Low who climbed off the bench to join the protests.
There was no VAR in operation at Kenilworth Road but replays supported the officials. Malang Sarr had stepped up in attempt to play offside but mistimed his move and Cornick was just on.
Saul tested Isted again before he moved to replace Kenedy as the left wing-back as Tuchel shuffled his team on the hour and drew a response. Finally, they found a happy rhythm and Luton faded as a force.
Werner hauled Chelsea back, collecting a pass from Loftus-Cheek and nudging it past Isted from close range before Lukaku fired them into the lead for the first time, sliding in to turn a low cross from Werner into the net.
Luton return to their promotion quest. ‘This was caviar for us,’ said boss Jones. ‘The league is our bread and butter.’
Chelsea prepare for a life without Abramovich and wonder if their caviar diet is over.
Roman Abramovich announced on Wednesday night that he is putting Chelsea up for sale
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group