Three wins from three games; how did that happen? Slowly but surely we’re picking up results, if not plaudits, and it’s almost enough to sweep those pesky goals conceded from set-pieces well under the carpet. We have even started to score a few of our own! The team are beginning to march to the same beat as the immense Frank Lampard, and with Michael Ballack hitting his annual January peak we could be in for a treat on Wednesday when struggling Middlesbrough visit the Bridge. Boro papered over the cracks themselves at the weekend with a 2-1 win over Wolves in the FA Cup, but that was nothing but a slight distraction to their problems in the league.
If we thought we had it bad – or at least slightly uncomfortable – then spare a thought for poor Gareth Southgate. If our season has felt like a stone in the shoe, then Boro’s fans may feel as if they have been walking on nails, broken glass and the occasional dog turd since August. They currently sit inside the relegation zone, 18th due to goal difference – although they are technically bottom along with West Brom, Stoke, Blackburn and Tottenham – and have not won a Premier League game since the 9th November, when two goals from Tuncay Sanli – a reported target for Chelsea – helped Boro to a 2-1 away win over Aston Villa. Since then, they have drawn four and lost six, including heavy defeats against Fulham, West Brom, and Bolton.
Boro have some fresh injury problems ahead of their trip south, with left-back Andrew Taylor injured against Wolves on Saturday after playing only seven minutes. Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Shawky also left the action early in that game and remains a doubt. Shawky saw his compatriot Mido leave the Riverside last weekend, with the striker moving on to Wigan in exchange for fellow front man Marlon King who may feature at some point against the Blues. Midfielder Didier Digard is suspended however, while Jeremie Aliadiere and Justin Hoyte should also miss out through injury. Boro also missed out on the signing of young midfielder Ben Watson from Crystal Palace today, with the 23-year-old opting for a move to Wigan instead of Teesside.
Chelsea could welcome back John Terry and Deco to the starting XI, with the former returning to training after a back problem, and the latter returning to match action in the 3-1 win over Ipswich on Saturday. Ricardo Carvalho limped off with a hamstring problem during the game, but he could be in line for a swift return on Wednesday. But with Luis Felipe Scolari’s new ‘Alex must play’ rule, we could see the lively Afonso Alves line up opposite the, shall we say, slightly cumbersome Brazilian defender as well as Terry, whose pace has never been his strong point. John Mikel Obi, a secret insomniac perhaps, was taking a dawn drive on Saturday morning before the police put an end to his bleary-eyed motoring…and I shall go no further for legal reasons. Better chuck in an ‘allegedly’ somewhere too, just for safety.
Back on firmer ground, Carlo Cudicini has left for struggling Tottenham Hotspur, handing Hilario the number two slot at Chelsea and leaving us with plenty of good memories. All the best Carlo, and good luck in the Championship next year.
Speaking of the Championship, it could very well feature Middlesbrough next season if they continue to sink further into the abyss of the Premier League relegation zone. Just five wins in 22 games tells its own story, and although we tend to struggle at the Riverside, the game up there earlier this season was an absolute breeze. Although Southgate fielded a makeshift defence, their insipid display on the day helped Chelsea to a 5-0 win, with Salomon Kalou opening the scoring in the first-half before a Juliano Belletti screamer doubled the score after the break. David Wheater quickly added an own goal before the traditional Lampard goal which has become a custom for seemingly every game so far this season. To put things in perspective and sum up just how bad Boro were, Florent Malouda got the fifth.
Although you don’t have to far back to find a Middlesbrough win over Chelsea (August 2006 to be precise), the last time Boro won at Stamford Bridge was way back in March 1975.
With Manchester United suffering an injury crisis of Chelsea proportions and Liverpool seemingly afraid of winning any game, a mid-week home fixture could be the perfect opportunity to make up some ground on the top two. United travel to West Brom while Rafa Benitez’s side face a tricky trip to the JJB Stadium and Wigan Athletic. And we have Middlesbrough. At home. I don’t want to tempt fate but this is a huge opportunity which must not be missed. Four wins from four and it may well feel like the good old days again, and maybe then we can start to ignore those darn set-piece goals flying in from all angles!