Guus Hiddink was handed the FA Cup as a going-away present as Chelsea recovered from conceding the fastest goal in final history to beat Everton. The contest was less than half a minute old when Louis Saha found the net. It was to be a high point for Everton though, as Didier Drogba levelled before Frank Lampard's 20-yard strike just evaded the despairing dive of Tim Howard 18 minutes from time.
Apart from enabling Ashley Cole to become the first player since the 19th century to collect five winners' medals, the victory, Chelsea's second in three years at the new Wembley, is a reminder of the stability Hiddink has brought to Stamford Bridge since replacing the hapless Luiz Felipe Scolari in February. And if, as expected, Carlo Ancelotti is confirmed as permanent manager when Hiddink returns to his full-time job with Russia, the Italian has been given a pretty successful man to follow.
After a pair of tepid semi-finals, the Wembley authorities changed the pitch and their groundsman in the hope of getting something better in place for their showpiece occasion. The reward came after exactly 25 seconds.
If there is a more unlucky player in world football at the moment than Louis Saha, he must get some pretty bad fortune. During a brief period on loan at Newcastle much earlier in his career, Saha was overlooked for one FA Cup final. Of the three he sat out at Manchester United, he was fit for just one, in 2004, but he was ineligible.
In addition to that, a booking during a brief substitute appearance in the FIFA World Cup™ semi-final in Germany three years ago meant he was suspended for France's eventual defeat by Italy. So there was a fair bit of venom in his left foot when Marouane Fellaini guided Michael Essien's weak clearance into the former Manchester United man's path. Saha met the ball perfectly, leaving Petr Cech with not a hope of keeping it out.
The Everton supporters, far more noisy than their Chelsea counterparts anyway, erupted in joy, Peter Reid among them, daring to believe this year, as in their last appearance 14 seasons ago, they would leave Wembley as winners. If there is a downside to scoring quite so early, it is the length of time left to hang on.
Everton did try to keep pushing forward. It was just that they were not allowed to as Chelsea shook off that massive initial disappointment and slowly but purposefully turned the screw. Tony Hibbert is what is known in the trade as an honest professional. Dedicated to his task, what he lacks in ability, he tries to make up for in effort. Sometimes though, it is not enough.
Booked after eight minutes for a needless ankle tap on Malouda, he was then repeatedly exposed by the French wide-man, a clear case of Chelsea targeting an individual within opposition ranks. More than any other player, Malouda has benefited from working with Hiddink and the Dutchman's departure for Moscow will be keenly felt by the former Lyon man, acquired at the not inconsiderable cost of £13.5 million by Jose Mourinho. And, assisted by Cole, the pair caused mayhem down the Everton right virtually at will.
Malouda delivered the cross that invited Drogba's powerful finish for the Chelsea equaliser, Cole had the angled drive that should have put them in front. Before that, Malouda had just fired over and with Lampard's dipping effort virtually skimming the Everton crossbar, it was not really a surprise when David Moyes introduced Lars Jacobsen at the break. The move worked to the extent that Chelsea were forced to go infield to make ground, Nicolas Anelka going mightily close with a deft lob.
However, in stemming such an obvious flow of attacks on their goal, Everton found it easier to relieve the pressure and apply some of their own. Saha went close with virtually their first decent opening since he scored and spirits started to rise again among the Toffees faithful. How quickly they were crushed.
After collecting Anelka's lay-off, Lampard was assisted by a slight slip as he checked inside Phil Neville, allowing him a couple of extra seconds to get a sight of Everton's goal and he duly drilled home from 20 yards.
Chelsea were twice denied a third, first when referee Howard Webb decided Malouda's effort had not crossed the line after crashing back off the bar, then when the official booked Lampard for diving when Stephen Pienaar had stuck out a leg for him to fall over. It did not matter. Hiddink richly deserved to wave goodbye with a glint of silverware in his eye.