In the end, Chelsea demolished Tottenham 5-1, though it took a series of horrible refereeing decisions by Martin Atkinson while the game was still close to tilt what had been a largely even game in their favour. No matter the help they received along the way, it sets up an FA Cup final in three weeks that will see them face Liverpool for the third time this season, with a fourth match to come between the cup final and the end of the campaign. And if the frequency and history of games between the two clubs in recent years wasn't enough, the actions of some supporters at yesterday's match will only add a further unpleasant undertone to the final.
For all the abuse Howard Webb receives for an approach to refereeing that at times seems to believe the fans have come to watch him and not the players, for many the discussion of worst officials in the Premier League begins and ends with Martin Atkinson. On the basis of his frankly atrocious performance at yesterday's second FA Cup semi-final it's hard to imagine he deserves to referee another game in the top flight this season, though as the number two man on the FA's lists it's hugely unlikely he'll find himself demoted any time soon.
Still, while his decision to award Juan Mata a goal when his shot struck a fallen player in front of the goal line will be remembered as the single worst refereeing decision this season, he at least made the right call when he cut short the pre-match minute of silence in remembrance of the Hillsborough disaster. It was a choice that sadly had to be made when portions of Chelsea's support at Wembley jeered and chanted during the silence, acts that were met with a loud chorus of booing from the Spurs end after Atkinson prematurely blew the whistle to end what had quickly gone from a show of respect to a shameful embarrassment.
For many, some of the blame must belong to Arsenal fan and comedian Alan Davies, whose well-publicised comments early in the week riled up segments of the Chelsea's support by pointing out that Liverpool's refusal to play on the day of the anniversary meant they would have less downtime before Wednesday's tie against Barcelona in the Champions League. Though of course for those Chelsea fans who have built their identity as supporters around feelings of resentment towards clubs whose histories grant them a level of national and international respect and notoriety Roman Abramovich's billions alone can never buy, such a crass display likely took little convincing.
And of course this latest incident comes after Chelsea fans reacted with jeers and catcalls to the season ending injury of Lucas Leiva when the two sides met in the League Cup. It's true of course that every club will have its share crass and classless fans, those whom the sensible majority will rather wish were the headache instead of someone else. Yet this sort of visible and exceptionally poor behaviour by Chelsea fans, no matter that it may be a small minority, is given its counterpoint by the supporters of the very club they just faced and the one they're now set to take on in the final.
In recent weeks, Tottenham fans were notable for the class they showed in the FA Cup when their match against Bolton was called off after Fabrice Muamba collapsed late in the first half. After it became clear that there was a serious medical emergency, it's hard to imagine even those Chelsea fans who yesterday booed the dead and chanted "murderers" behaving too badly, but for those in the stands when Muamba collapsed it would have taken a number of minutes before that became clear.
As for Liverpool's fans, in the wake of Chelsea supporters booing the injured Lucas many tried to excuse it by suggesting that Liverpool fans would do the same. Yet this suggestion collided with a very different reality in March when former Everton player Mikel Arteta was stretchered off the pitch having suffered a severe concussion that required he be taken to hospital. Despite that he was a former star for Liverpool's local rivals and played for Arsenal, a club Liverpool at the time believed they were competing with for fourth, the reaction of the home fans was such that Arteta thanked them later in the week for their support.
That many of Chelsea's players, including former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres and captain John Terry, decided not to wear black armbands for the match will rankle some, though that they didn't is at worst a very minor insult. The reaction of some fans before the match, however, is far more serious, and it's no surprise that the club felt forced to make a press release speaking to their embarrassment on the matter. They are right to feel embarrassed, and one hopes that they do not have cause to feel further embarrassment for the actions of their fans on May the fifth.
Given this marks the second time this season Chelsea has had to apologise for the embarrassing actions of their fans, however, this may be too much to hope for, likely leaving Liverpool to seek some form of recompense on the pitch.
Note: An editing snafu led to Alan Davies being identified as a Chelsea fan, an error that was spotted by at least one incensed Chelsea fan during the five minutes it was live as such. We apologise to anybody who found themselves grievously insulted or permanently scarred by this misidentification.