While it was definitely refreshing to witness a 2-0 win and an improved display over Birmingham City, it's hard to know what to take out of a victory against an injury-ravaged lower league team.
A poor playing surface ensured that the first half performance remained disjointed. Having spurned the chance to take an early lead when Juan Mata was unable to get the ball out from under his feet with Salomon Kalou standing in front of an empty net, that familiar uncertainty appeared to engulf the men in white once again until Ramires helped to drive Chelsea forward after the half hour mark. In a positive twist, the momentum was not relinquished until Mata saw a penalty saved for the second time in the tie to give the hosts a faint glimmer if hope with the score at 2-0.
Indeed, it was encouraging to see Chelsea score during the spells in the game during which they were in the ascendency, something that they had failed to do against West Brom at the weekend and in January fixtures against Norwich and Sunderland. The penalty miss and Daniel Sturridge's clanger from 3 yards meant that once again a ruthless edge was lacking but the second half still saw a fluency of play that hinted of better things to come.
In the dugout, Roberto Di Matteo passed his first audition admirably, selecting a sensible team with the more pressing engagements in the Premier League and Champions League on his mind. The conspirators out there have since been hypothesizing as to what the reaction of the fans would have been had Andre Villas-Boas picked the same line-up, such was the barrage of criticism when a similar eleven took the field in Naples, though they fail to miss the rather huge point that The Championship's Birmingham are not in the same league as Serie A's Napoli, both literally and figuratively.
Looking towards the next 11 weeks, Di Matteo will benefit from having a clearer remit than the one handed to his predecessor. He knows that the job of rejuvenating the team and phasing out the older players will be done in the summer – and almost certainly - by someone else.
He can focus on winning matches without having to dabble in the politics that consume the club. He has his eyes set on fourth spot in the league, turning round the Champions League second round tie and rekindling his love affair with Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup. His appointment places someone at the helm with whom the fans can truly connect due to a successful spell in a blue shirt in which he scored in three separate cup finals including THAT goal against Middlesbrough in 1997. As ever in football, results will ultimately decide in what regard he is held but for now his popularity will buy him time.
That popularity – and his time as a Chelsea player - should also encourage the playing staff to afford Di Matteo the respect that was not unanimously given to Villas-Boas. It was instructive to see the celebrations of both the manager and the substitutes when Raul Meireles fired a piledriver into the top corner to make the score 2-0 at St Andrews. Frank Lampard, John Terry and the rest of the replacements were all on their feet to acclaim the strike and were joined by Di Matteo who hurled himself on top of the pair in exultation. In the face of mutterings that many of the squad are not fond of the Italian – an allegation given legs by that bastion of integrity, The Sun – the scene on display seemed to scotch any rumblings of discontent and disharmony. Either that or Academy Award nominations should be winging their way to the Stamford Bridge dressing room without delay.
Another aspect that could endear Di Matteo still further to the supporters and to his charges is his vision of the game. The West Brom team that he led to promotion in 2009/10 and who memorably beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium last season played a style of football that was both easy on the eye and effective. The fact that he was given his P45 after securing just four points from what were to be his final 10 games in charge might appear to disprove that last statement but I would argue that it was naïvety rather than anything else that saw him persist with his philosophy despite a lack of personnel at his disposal capable of turning in match-winning performances on a weekly basis. The squad that he is now working with should not have the same issues.
Following on from the hap-hazard reign of the youthful Villas-Boas, perhaps 'naivety' is not a word that fellow Chelsea fans would wish to hear in conjunction with their manager. However, time on the sidelines will hopefully have attuned his thinking and I'm sure he will have noted the areas in which his Portuguese predecessor fell short.
If he has any sense, he will treat his senior players with consideration even if he chooses not to select them on matchday. Lampard – to pick the obvious example – may not have a divine right to be in the starting eleven but his sterling service over the last 11 and a half years has certainly earned him the right to an explanation.
Di Matteo should also not be afraid to shake things up a bit though he would be well-advised to resist executing major surgery on the team given the short period until the end of the campaign. It would be nice to see Sturridge played through the middle when the situation allows and with the return to fitness of John Terry, perhaps David Luiz could be trialled at right-back allowing him to set off on his buccaneering runs without leaving the defence too exposed.
But putting tactics and team selection to one side, maybe the most important part of Di Matteo's job is restoring the confidence of the players. While he faces an almost impossible task trying to get Fernando Torres back to his old self – the misfiring Spaniard declined an offer from Mata to take the spot kick against Birmingham, an act which speaks volumes about his state of mind - the rest of the squad could certainly benefit from a little TLC.
Now bring on Stoke.