Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka gave newly appointed manager Guus Hiddink the perfect welcome as his hat-trick clinched a 3-1 win over Watford in the FA Cup fifth round. Hiddink does not officially take charge until Monday after replacing sacked Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari earlier this week, but the Dutchman was watching from the Vicarage Road stands alongside owner Roman Abramovich as Anelka's late treble denied Championship strugglers Watford what would have been a delightful victory.
Hornet striker Tamas Priskin had threatened to give Hiddink a headache when he chipped the hosts ahead. But Anelka equalised in the 75th minute, struck again two minutes later and put the result beyond doubt in stoppage time. Watford had taken the lead in the 69th minute as Priskin beat Chelsea's offside trap and dinked a cool finish that deflected over Petr Cech and looped into the net.
But Anelka saved Hiddink from an embarassing introduction to English football. The France striker scored the equaliser in the 75th minute with a bicycle kick from Frank Lampard's corner. With Watford on the back foot, Ashley Cole then lofted in a cross towards Anelka, whose header bounced once before beating Scott Loach. Anelka confirmed Chelsea's place in the quarter-finals with a low finish in the final moments.
Elsewhere, a stoppage-time equaliser from Christopher Samba prevented Blackburn Rover's miserable season from taking another turn for the worse and denied Coventry City a memorable FA Cup upset. A dramatic tie ended with Samba firing in from ten yards in a frantic goalmouth scramble to secure a 2-2 draw for Sam Allardyce's relegation-threatened side.
Hull City were also taken to a replay by Championship opposition after coming from behind to draw 1-1 with Sheffield United. Swansea City's meeting with Fulham and the all-Premiership tie between West Ham United and Middlesbrough ended in identical scorelines.
Blackburn striker Roque Santa Cruz had ensured the perfect start for his side at Ewood Park, fastening on to a Samba flick-on before finding the bottom corner after just two minutes. Coventry were rewarded for a much-improved performance after the interval with goals from Aron Gunnarsson and Michael Doyle and were within seconds of what would have been a deserved victory, only to be denied by Samba.
Sheffield United also finished the afternoon frustrated, having taken the lead against Hull through Greg Halford, who headed in a sixth-minute cross from David Cotterill. Kamil Zayatte got the Premier League club back on level terms ten minutes before the interval when he converted Andy Dawson's cross.
Fulham avoided becoming the latest victims of giant-killers Swansea, despite being outplayed for long periods in a 1-1 draw with the side that eliminated holders Portsmouth in the last round. Roy Hodgson's men took the lead through a Garry Monk own goal in the first half, but Swansea were worthy of at least the equalizer, which was delivered by Trinidad and Tobago striker Jason Scotland. Fulham had reason to be grateful for another fine display from Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, without whom the Premier League side would almost certainly have joined Portsmouth on the Cup scrapheap.
The all-Premier League match between West Ham and Middlesbrough also went to a replay with the on-form Hammers obliged to conjure up a late equaliser from Congolese defender Herita Ilunga. Middlesbrough's first-half display belied their lowly league position and they fully deserved to claim a 22nd-minute lead when England wide man Stewart Downing headed in Gary O'Neil's cross to the back post. But Herita popped up in the Boro box with seven minutes left to claim the equaliser West Ham just about deserved.
Manchester United travel to Derby on Sunday while Everton meet Aston Villa in arguably the tie of the round. Arsenal have still to get past the fourth round stage, with the Gunners due to host Cardiff in a weather-delayed replay at the Emirates Stadium on Monday. The winners of that tie face Burnley in the fifth round.