Chelsea’s mini-resurgence continued at the Riverside, with an ultimately comfortable 2-0 win against Middlesbrough. The man in the headlines, Didier Drogba, made amends for his midweek comments by scoring the opener, whilst Alex’s first goal for Chelsea was certainly one to remember, the Brazilian smashing home a long range free kick in the second half.
John Terry and Ashley Cole were both missing from the defence through injury, and with Wayne Bridge suspended; Paulo Ferreira showed his versatility by filling in at left back. This meant Juliano Belletti slotted in on the right, whilst Alex was preferred to Tal Ben-Haim as Carvalho’s central defensive partner. Mikel, Essien and Lampard were the chosen midfield trio, leaving Joe Cole and and Florent Malouda to join Drogba in the front three.
Former Tottenham striker Mido was to provide the clearest threat to goal for the home side, with Stewart Downing looking to cause problems out wide. Chris Riggott and Jonathan Woodgate were the central defenders, with Chelsea old-boy Robert Huth nowhere to be seen.
Both teams started slowly in this encounter, Chelsea as expected after an international break that saw most of our first team in action overseas.
In the eight minute, was the first real attack of the match, and it resulted in a goal for Avram Grant’s Blues. Joe Cole’s neat pass found Drogba, who quickly found Frank Lampard in midfield. With Drogba speeding ahead into space, Lampard placed the pass perfectly into his path, the Ivorian making no mistake with a tidy left footed finish past the stranded Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. After his comments in the previous days, Drogba will be relived to have impressed once more.
There were just two real opportunities in the remainder of the first half, one for either side. The first was for Mido, who headed Gary O’Neil’s flighted cross towards goal, only for Petr Čech to make a marvelous reaction save. The second was for Chelsea, the goalscorer Drogba’s freekick hitting the side netting.
The second half was much more lively, Ricardo Carvalho marauding forward was brought down by Boro skipper Boateng, who was subsequently booked by the referee. Čech easily saved another Mido header, before Middlesbrough had a penalty shout denied. Stewart Downing’s cross hit Mikel, but with the Boro fans and players appealing to referee Mark Halsey, he turned their penalty claims away. Replays later showed that indeed the ball did hit Mikel’s chest and not his arm.
On 56 minutes, Chelsea were awarded a free kick central to goal, and nearly 35 yards out. Usually the go-to man in these positions, Frank Lampard instead rolled the ball sideways to the gigantic defender Alex, who took a few steps of his
run up before absolutely belting the ball into the top corner. After leaving his right boot, the ball fizzed and swerved away from Schwarzer’s despairing dive, high into the top corner of the net. A spectacular way for the Brazilian to open his account for Chelsea, and a sure goal of the season contender from our newest centre back.
George Boateng was taken off by Gareth Southgate during the second half, with England under-21 midfielder Lee Cattermole being his replacement. Soon after, Florent Malouda was booked for a foul on Young, before Avram Grant made a sub of his own, withdrawing the Frenchman and introducing the in form Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Chelsea were cruising comfortably at 2-0 and with ten minutes remaining, Essien was replaced by Sidwell, Grant clearly with one eye on our midweek Champions League tie against Schalke. With eight minutes to go, Lampard’s 30 yard free kick flew wide, as he did his best Alex impersonation.
Craddock on for Tuncay and Shevchenko for Drogba were the final changes of a somewhat tepid encounter, and Chelsea negotiated the two minutes of added time with little fuss.
This win is Chelsea’s third in a row, and fourth consecutive away from home. It was also a third consecutive clean sheet for Petr Čech, who once more showed his dependability and reliability with his save from Mido’s header in the first half. Alex’s truly outstanding strike gave the fans something to cheer about, and eased the pressure further on Avram Grant, as our focus turns to the potentially trick Champions League match against German side Schalke in midweek. For now though, Chelsea stay in touch, as the resurgence continues.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Čech; Belletti, Alex, Carvalho, Ferreira; Mikel, Essien (Sidwell 80), Lampard (c); J Cole, Drogba (Shevchenko 84), Malouda (Wright-Phillips 74).
Middlesbrough (4-1-4-1): Schwarzer; Young, Woodgate, Riggott, Taylor; Boateng (c) (Cattermole 67), Tuncay (Craddock 83), O’Neil, Rochemback, Downing; Mido.
Referee Mark Halsey.