Conor Gallagher brilliant performance saves Pochettino as Chelsea limp through in FA Cup to keep season alive

Conor Gallagher saves Mauricio Pochettino as Chelsea limp through in FA Cup to keep season alive

Mauricio Pochettino must have aged considerably over the 90 minutes, but Conor Gallagher saved his skin, for now at least.

The Argentine watched as a nervous-looking Chelsea slugged it out with Leeds for a 3-2 victory in the FA Cup fifth round, a match that could have been the defining moment in his tenure.

Such high stakes forced a desperate and largely poor performance over 90 minutes from Chelsea, but substitute Gallagher’s last-minute winner saved the day.

Of course, Pochettino denied he was in immediate danger, claiming qualification for Europe was not essential, but everyone knew this match was a must-win.

The season could have been over by March, and, for some, those circumstances could have forced Pochettino into a managerial death spiral.

Unfortunately for the Chelsea boss, the match could not have started much worse. Mateo Joseph exploited a calamitous error from Axel Disasi and Moises Caicedo to score in the eighth minute.

It was what Leeds, who had been unbeaten in 2024, deserved for starting well, dominating physically and pressing Chelsea into mistakes.

But, out of the chaos, Chelsea suddenly clicked and produced a stunning move to equalise through Nicolas Jackson. To their credit, the players reacted well to going a goal down, as did the club’s fans, showing fight for an under-fire manager.

Mykhailo Mudryk added Chelsea’s second just before half-time, impressively finishing from Raheem Sterling’s cut-back. The Ukrainian winger, 23, has faced plenty of criticism in recent weeks but also showed some quality at Stamford Bridge with several dangerous attacking moments.

Enzo Fernandez captained Chelsea, with Reece James out injured and both Ben Chilwell and Gallagher on the bench. He was one of the driving forces behind the fightback.

However, Leeds struck back themselves through a far post header from Joseph.

Cole Palmer, Levi Colwill, Gallagher and Chilwell were all thrown on as Chelsea ceded possession to Leeds in a poor second half, with Joseph missing a huge chance to score his hat-trick.

Leeds had more opportunities to score, as the ball ricocheted in the box moments after. Jaidon Antony kept getting chances too, cutting inside onto his right foot and shooting.

But Fernandez played the ball through to Gallagher, and he brilliantly spun and scored inside Leeds’s box, in a brief moment of quality in a poor half.

This was not a valiant victory, but Pochettino will not care. He knows the only way he can truly get the time he needs is to keep winning, whether that is by playing well or simply limping over the line.

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