Chelsea moved back into second place in the English Premier League with a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge against Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough. The Blues were able to capitalise on Liverpool’s slip up, with Benitez’s side only able to draw with Wigan Athletic. John Terry and John Obi Mikel returned to the Chelsea lineup, though Carvalho was missing through injury and Belletti through illness. Typically for an away side, Middlesbrough parked the bus and played a lone striker, Marlon King, recently signed on loan. Former cult favourite Robert Huth was an unused substitute.

Also typically, Chelsea started playing high tempo football, looking to unsettle the opposition, firmly rooted in the bottom three. Our desire to attack was epitomised by the most clear cut chance of the first half, produced in the twelfth minute. Right back Jose Bosingwa crossed deep to the far post, where the left back Ashley Cole had drawn free of his marker. However, his header was misguided and he only found the side netting, despite only being a few yards out from Ross Turnbull’s goal.

Michael Ballack, fresh from a double against Ipswich Town in the FA Cup, tried his luck from a set piece again, forcing Turnbull into an awkward looking save. Lampard- also a free kick scorer against the Tractor Boys- tried his luck from range, though it cleared the bar by a comfortable distance.

With ten minutes remaining in the half, Kalou headed a Lampard corner over. Rumblings of discontent were heard as the half time whistle blew, not helped when it was pointed out at half time that amongst the scorers elsewhere in football, were Shaun Wright-Phillips, Carlton Cole and the on-loan (and on-fire) Claudio Pizarro, who netted his fourteenth goal of the season. Oh…

Drogba replaced the increasingly ineffective Malouda at half time, and his physical presence added uncertainty to the scrum that was set pieces. Alex headed a Lampard corner towards goal, only for Kalou to head it practically out of the goalkeeper’s hands and over the crossbar. It had been an evening full of inconsistency for the Ivorian forward.

However, moments after that glaring miss, he gave Chelsea the lead. Lampard’s corner was fought for by Drogba and Alex, before dropping to Kalou. The Chelsea striker leant back and smashed a scorching volley past the flying Turnbull to break the deadlock and ease the tension amongst the home fans. It was a quality finish from an oft-frustrating attacker.

Tuncay and Alves were introduced by Middlesbrough manager Southgate in an attempt to wrest the game back from Chelsea, though Cech remained untroubled between the sticks.

Lampard forced another awkward save from Turnbull, which lead to an opportunity for Kalou, but the striker slipped at the crucial moment, the ball bouncing away for a goalkick.

Regardless, it was Kalou who made the points safe. Lampard’s corner was swung in from the left and with his defence static, Turnbull charged off his line to claim the ball. Only he didn’t, and Kalou was left with an easy header into the unguarded net. Game over.

Deco and Stoch made cameo appearances, the former replacing Kalou immediately after his second goal, the latter coming on for Anelka with minutes remaining.

Kalou’s eight goal of the season and a first clean sheet in seven matches will boost Chelsea’s confidence ahead of a crucial match against title rivals Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday afternoon. However, the positive impact of Drogba in the second half means that Scolari now has some serious decisions to make regarding team selection – decisions that may well change the course of the season.

I would also like to thank Carlo Cudicini for nine and half years of magnificent service to Chelsea Football Club. Carlo, you are a true gentleman and an immensely talented goalkeeper. Your dedication and commitment to the success of the team over the years has been unrivalled, and we fans can safely say we’d not be in the position we are today had it not been for your incredible skill, talent and leadership. All the best, and good luck Carlo.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry (c), A Cole; Ballack, Mikel, Lampard; Kalou (Deco 81), Anelka (Stoch 88), Malouda (Drogba h-t).
Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari

Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Turnbull; McMahon, Riggott, Wheater, Pogatetz (c); Johnson, Bates, O’Neil, Shawky (Tuncay 63), Downing; King (Alves 63).
Manager Gareth Southgate

 Lee Probert
Crowd 40,280

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