The visitors to the Bridge this evening after a very busy Christmas and New Year were Middlesbrough. After taking nine points from our three holiday games it was a possibility that we’d get twelve from twelve and continue our great run at the top of the Premiership. Middlesbrough bring back memories from our 1997 FA Cup Final victory and our 1998 Coca Cola Cup Final victory, both games ended 2-0. Older fans may remember 1988 when we were relegated at the expense of Boro, we’d lost 2-0 at Ayersome Park and with 40,000+ fans at Stamford Bridge in the second leg we won 1-0 but lost overall 2-1 and were relegated to the old second division. So, the victories in the FA Cup and the League Cup went a long way to extinguish those bad old days.
Middlesbrough travelled with two former Chelsea players, Bolo Zenden and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who lined up against the Blues this evening. Jimmy was given a memento at the start of the game for his services to the Blues, this was presented by his old strike partner Eidur Gudjohnsen, he was given a good cheer by the home fans as they appreciated the fantastic service that Jimmy had given us over the years. Chelsea made three changes to the team that beat Liverpool on New Years Day, Alexey Smertin came in at left back as Paulo Ferreira went back to his more familiar right back position. Smertin came in as a virus had hit the Chelsea camp, Wayne Bridge was ill, Celestine Babayaro was on his way to Newcastle and with William Gallas playing at center back for the injured Ricardo Carvalho, the only real option was Smertin although he’d recently been suffering from a virus and tonsillitis. Dider Drogba came in up front for Eidur Gudjohnsen.
Chelsea took 85 years to complete a ‘double’ over Liverpool; if we won tonight it would be our first ‘double’ over Middlesbrough in 73 years, could this be another famous night on our way to winning our first title since 1955? There was a minute’s silence before the game for the victims of the Tsunami disaster, after the very well respected minute the Chelsea fans were ready for a deluge of goals to keep us unbeaten in 2005. The first action of the game came in the very first minute, Paulo Ferreira gave the ball away and Middlesbrough got their first corner of the night, the corner was cleared but for the first few minutes it was a little uncomfortable as Boro pressed. However, those first two minutes were the only real time that Boro had an advantage in the whole game. In the fourth minute we got our first corner of the night, an out swinging corner by Arjen Robben found Didier Drogba who powered his header goal wards but it went straight at Schwarzer in the Boro goal and he managed to keep hold of the ball. A couple of minutes later Boro’s left midfielder Downing lost the ball to Damien Duff, he played a chipped ball through to Arjen Robben however the ball just had too much pace and ran out of play. Chelsea were starting to settle and were playing some great passing football, this culminated in the 12th minute with Didier Drogba having a shot at the Boro goal but again the ball was saved by Schwarzer. A minute after a cross by Smertin found Robben who’s shot was saved and pushed around for a corner.
With the Chelsea fans singing “When Wise Went Up To Lift The FA Cup.” It wasn’t long before our possession play gave us our first goal in the 14th minute. The goal came from Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard met a long ball played out by Petr Cech, he beat Ray Parlour and played the ball to Didier Drogba, Drogba chested the ball down he beat Gareth Southgate and sent a shot rocketing into the net. It was no more than we deserved and it was Didier’s eighth goal of the season. He ran celebrating over to the corner flag as all the players followed him. The fans celebrated too as we were on our way to the three points. Three minutes later it was 2-0. Colin Cooper gave away a free kick after a foul on Joe Cole. Lamps played a 40-yard ball straight onto the head of Drogba who headed past Schwarzer, it was game over and the points were in the bag. Again Didier raced to the corner flag to celebrate in his own inimitable way. It was 1997 and 1998 all over again with different players who may well take us further than the team of that era.
The only bad points of the first half were the bookings of Joe Cole in the 24th minute and Arjen Robben six minutes later. Robben will now miss the Carling Cup semi final 1st leg against Man Utd next week, however, like Frank Lampard he won’t miss any Premiership games, which makes the booking easier to take. Another big cheer apart from the goals came on the 32nd minute, as the big scoreboards flashed up that Arsenal were a goal down against Man City. At the same time Man Utd were still drawing 0-0 with Spurs. Before half time Robben and Duff combined as Robben shot at Schwarzer only for him to spill the ball but Duffer couldn’t convert. A minute later Frank Lampard played a ball through after great play with Drogba, he found Paulo Ferreira who’d continued his run, however his lob went over the bar. If Paulo had scored it would have been the first goal of his career.
At half time Arsenal were still losing and Man Utd were still drawing. Chelsea continued their great passing play in the second half. Four minutes after the re-start Glen Johnson replaced Alexey Smertin. Smertin had still been suffering and at 2-0 up it seemed as though a rest would be better for him. It could have been 3-0 in the 56th minute, a goal kick by Schwarzer, who was awful on the night, found Damien Duff about 15 yards from goal, when it looked like another Duffer goal he blasted the shot against the crossbar. There were further efforts for Chelsea during the second half but the score remained 2-0. Boro’s best chance of the night came from a Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink free kick just before full time. His free kick in front of the Matthew Harding stand went into the top tier amongst great cheers from the Chelsea fans that sung Jimmy’s name. At full time it was a victory that was made even better by the results at Highbury and Old Trafford. Although Arsenal managed to pull a goal back against Man City they could only draw 1-1, as for United, they could only manage a 0-0 draw against Spurs. It now puts us seven points clear of Arsenal and eleven clear of Man Utd. As for Wenger and Ferguson, so who are the ones with very red faces tonight? Oh dear, your words have come back to hit you in the face with extra topping on your pizza’s!
“We Are Top Of The League …”
Chelsea: Cech, Ferreira, Terry, Gallas, Smertin (Johnson 49), Makelele, Lampard, Cole (Tiago 61), Robben, Drogba (Kezman 78), Duff. Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Gudjohnsen
Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Reiziger, Cooper, Southgate, Queudrue, Parlour, Doriva (Morrison 71), Nemeth (Job 58) , Zenden, Downing, Hasselbaink. Subs Not Used: Nash, Davies, McMahon.
Referee: Steve Bennett