JOHN OBI MIKEL has praised manager Rafael Benitez for turning Chelsea's fortunes around in the FA Cup clash at Manchester United.
When United went 2-0 ahead after 11 minutes, the holders were facing quarter-final elimination and many wondered if Benitez's spell in interim charge would come to a premature end as a result of a heavy defeat to an old rival.
The influence of senior players has been a recurring theme in the Chelsea squad in recent seasons as managers have continually moved on, but it was Benitez who took the opportunity at the interval to rectify the faults of the first half.
And the Blues responded with second-half goals from substitute Eden Hazard and Ramires to force a replay.
"It wasn't anything the players had to say," said Mikel, who was influential after coming off the bench. "It was the manager. The manager just said we had to go back out there and put things right. There was no anger, there was nothing like that. We just had a normal chat. It was about finding the determination – and we found it from nowhere."
The replay date is still to be determined as the Blues face a congested finish to the season.
Mikel hopes the draw at Old Trafford will provide the impetus for a strong end to a campaign which began with Chelsea in contention for seven trophies.
Just the FA Cup and the Europa League – the unexpected eighth – remain, with Chelsea in action in the last-16 second leg with Steaua Bucharest on Thursday, needing to overturn a 1-0 deficit to advance.
"Let's hope that this is the performance that puts us back in a good light, that we can keep going from here and end the season well," Mikel said.
"This is a crucial time in the season and we have to start putting in good performances."
Mikel knows the Blues face a stern test to keep their FA Cup defence on track and set up a semi-final with Manchester City.
He said: "The tie is not over. You can never write off Manchester United. We have to go back to Stamford Bridge and make sure we put the tie away."