Didier Drogba delights

The Chelsea striker, having lost out to Cristiano Ronaldo in the season's personal awards, despite an exceptional personal campaign, stole the glory with a typically brave example of the predator's arts, writes Amy Lawrence.

The Premiership's two most accomplished teams have already slugged it out for the best part of nine months for one piece of silver. This final quest was like a microcosm of the title race: long, exhausting and with very little in it. Wembley yearned for a romantic homecoming, but the cast list promised more than it could deliver. The star names from England's most recent champions turned out to be a bit of a tease.

After 116 minutes of uptight football, Chelsea delivered the FA Cup from the probability of being decided by its third consecutive penalty shootout. Didier Drogba, having lost out to Cristiano Ronaldo in the season's personal awards, despite an exceptional personal campaign, stole the glory with a typically brave example of the predator's arts. A shrewd one-two with Frank Lampard gave him a precious moment ahead of his marker Rio Ferdinand, and Drogba seized it to flick home his 33rd successful strike of the season. On the touchline Jose Mourinho re-enacted the manic dash he first showed Sir Alex Ferguson when the pair crossed swords in a Champions League match at Old Trafford in 2004. How he needed this victory. In fact, how Chelsea needed this. This club obsessed with winning by any means possible has a domestic Cup double to compensate, in some way, for the loss of the two prizes they value the most.

Mourinho's philosophy is for the means to justify the ends. "As I said to the players at the beginning of the week, `Do you want to enjoy the game or do you want to enjoy after the game?'" That explains everything.

Evidently, the Chelsea players' response was pretty unanimous, and, after Mourinho had disappeared to make a quick celebratory call to his family (and, presumably, dog) in Portugal, the boss joined his boys on the pitch with a symbolic gesture for all to see. He held aloft five fingers and a thumb, one digit for each of the trophies he has won since he arrived in England (including the Charity Shield).

Amid the pomp and circumstance that accompanied this special occasion, a Wembley winner from each of the past finals dating back to 1957, represented by Peter McParland, paraded in the pre-match sunshine. It was a reflection of the contrasting FA Cup collections of yesterday's finalists that the United fans had many more heroes to cheer than their Chelsea counterparts. The Roman Abramovich era may have had a shuddering impact on English football in the last three years, but Chelsea have been forced to endure a reality check in recent weeks.

It encapsulated Chelsea's season that the two major signings from last summer designed to take the club to a higher plane, Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack, were not involved. All has not gone to plan. It was something Mourinho was at pains to point out again afterwards as he recounted the injury list that has afflicted Chelsea's troubled campaign. `Bring on the Champions,' chanted the contingent from Manchester as the teams emerged into an atmosphere brimming with all the fervour that was lacking when these two clubs met at Stamford Bridge for a dull dress rehearsal recently. This, both managers had promised, would be different.

As it turned out, it was so cagey there was the distinct possibility of a Mexican Wave breaking out to give the fans something to watch. Was the pitch too heavy? Was the occasion a little overwhelming? Ferguson was not impressed with the slow surface but admitted that the season's exertions had caught up with his team. "We had two or three players who looked jaded, which was understandable considering it has been a tiring season with a lot of matches."

Cristiano Ronaldo, notably, was one of those he singled out as weary. The player of the year was conspicuously peripheral.

And so 20 minutes elapsed and neither of the best two teams in England had fashioned anything resembling a chance. Midway through the first half Drogba endeavoured to inject some sparkle into the affair when he picked up the ball just outside the centre circle, cantered forward and lashed a shot wide. The oohs from the crowd reflected the energy rather than the closeness of the move.

The Ivorian hitman generally struggled for support as his attacking accomplices, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole, who lasted only a half, strained to get far enough up the field to link with him. It was only when Lampard ghosted up in support that Edwin van der Sar had cause for any concern. As for United, whom Ferguson had warned of complacency following their lacklustre showing the previous weekend, spaces beyond Chelsea's rearguard action proved difficult to detect. In the first half Wayne Rooney was three times reeled in by the blue offside trap. Paul Scholes caught the eye with his imaginative passing, but United remained frustrated. Mourinho later sneered that they could have played for three hours and he had no fear that United would spear his defence.

Fortunately, a contest broke out after the break, largely inspired by the bulldozing presence of Rooney. He provoked a decent save from Petr Cech and threatened to lift events out of the ordinary with a barnstorming run the length of the pitch. Ryan Giggs picked up the baton to swing in a delicious shot from the left.

At last the final was alive and, in Paul Scholes's case, kicking, as he took a lump out of Lampard in a dangerous position on the corner of the penalty area. Drogba's free-kick clipped the outside edge of the post.

The first-half dirge was transformed into something resembling a spectacle, as Rooney, in particular, looked like a man on a mission. Not many are powerful enough to shrug off Michael Essien, but the 21-year-old did en route to an ambitious penalty claim when he was halted fairly by Cech inside the box.

Chelsea came on strong as normal time ebbed away, and United survived a couple of hairy moments thanks to Ferdinand's calm interceptions. Extra time was predictably tense, yet not without chances. United looked odds on to score in the opening period of extra time when Rooney centred for the on-rushing Giggs. The Welshman's sidefoot was saved by Cech, who was then bundled over the line, with the ball, by Giggs's momentum. United appealed in vain for everything — from a goal to a penalty — with Ferguson adamant that Essien had fouled Giggs in the build-up. The referee Steve Bennett was moved by neither call despite United's protest. Drogba was even more irritated to squander a chance when he headed into the side netting. Nobody does a hard-done-by look quite like he does. Then again, nobody else has had the scoring habit quite like he has this season.

"Didier is fantastic and a top character and he works for the team all the time," said Mourinho.

But the match-winner and top scorer's performance was not enough to earn top marks from his manager. Mourinho described the performance of John Obi Mikel as "like a king".

"You can't do much about it when it comes so late,' lamented Ferguson, who was denied a fourth domestic double with a late kick in the teeth.

"The players are too tired. I have seen it time and time again in football. The important thing is to accept it and get on with it. I'll wake up in the morning and get on with life."

@ Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007