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Chelsea 1-0 Middlesbrough


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Chelsea F.C. 1 - 0 Middlesbrough

March 30 2008, Premier League, Gameweek 32, Stamford Bridge, West London


Chelsea returned to second in the Premier League following their hard-fought victory over Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough.

Defender Ricardo Carvalho's first goal of the season proved the difference as the defender rose highest to bullet home Wayne Bridge's superb free-kick after five minutes, though Boro were denied three times by the woodwork at Stamford Bridge. Brazilian striker Afonso Alves was first denied by the goalpost from 35 yards before he headed agonisingly against the crossbar whilst unmarked inside the six-yard box. Middlesbrough defender David Wheater followed up but he too sent his headed effort against the frame of the goal.

It was a hard-fought victory against a tenacious Boro side who have greatly improved in recent weeks; earning impressive draws away to Aston Villa and Arsenal. Chelsea captain John Terry celebrated with Carlo Cudicini at the full-time whistle; the defender embracing the Italian shotstopper knowing that this win would add to the team's morale heading into Wednesday's crunch fixture in the Champions League away to Fenerbahce.

Frank Lampard was an absentee for Chelsea and the Blues' midfield was lacking the creativity of the England international's passing and long-range shooting. The home side would rely on Didier Drogba to lead the Chelsea line, joined by the in-form duo of Salomon Kalou and Joe Cole. Michael Essien returned to midfield alongside Ballack and John Obi Mikel who was a replacement for the rested Claude Makelele and Juliano Belletti came into the defence. Wayne Bridge was offered his first start since the defeat to Barnsley whilst Nicolas Anelka and Andrei Shevchenko were amongst a host of substitutes. Cudicini continued in the absence of Petr Cech.

Chelsea started brightly and Didier Drogba was oozing confidence. The Ivorian cut inside of his marker and unleashed a driving effort against the chest of Mark Schwarzer from all of forty yards. The shot was too hot to handle and had Kalou have beaten David Wheater to the ball, Chelsea may have taken the lead within the space of two minutes.

Yet the home side were not to be denied, and Wayne Bridge's freekick from the left-hand-side into the penalty area found Ricardo Carvalho, who headed home from all of fourteen yards. It was a brilliant goal by the Portuguese centre-half; a perfect mix of power and placement. Delighting his manager, Carvalho had given Avram Grant the start he had hoped for.

The Blues were dominating the early exchanges, and could have gone 2-0 up had Drogba not wasted Kalou's brilliant cross. The Ivorian winger had brilliantly fooled his marker and earned his team a corner which he took himself, but his compatriot could only head wide under pressure from Wheater, who was marshalling the Boro defence.

Boro were beginning to get back into the game by the end of the first period, though Carlo Cudicini's smart save following a rifled effort from Stuart Downing was all that the visiting side had conjured in an attacking sense. Chelsea had taken their foot off the gas; clearly comfortable with their one-goal lead.

Kalou had a shot blocked following a brilliant work from Michael Essien who magnificently flicked the ball into the Ivorian's path, but his route to goal was blocked by a combination of Boro pressure and a weak first touch.

Joe Cole shot weakly at Schwarzer before Drogba wasted a glorious chance when he headed over from eight yards whilst unmarked in the area. It was a fabulous chance and would have guaranteed the three points for a side bidding to go 78 home leagues matches unbeaten.

The second half saw Shaun Wright-Phillips introduced and he shot narrowly wide from an acute angle after being threaded through by Joe Cole, and the Chelsea number 10 himself fired weakly straight at the Middlesbrough goalkeeper. John Terry headed straight into the arms of Schwarzer from a Belletti corner on 55 minutes before Michael Essien's dipping volley from the edge of the area whistled inches over the crossbar.

Wright-Phillips shot wastefully over from 12 yards and the longer the game went on at 1-0, the more confidence Middlesbrough gained. The Boro side seemed to galvanise themselves for one less push for an equaliser, and substitute Afonso Alves seemed to make the difference.

Beating the offside trap on the counter-attack, Alves beat the onrushing Cudicini to the ball and looked to have slotted the ball home from 35 yards, only to see his effort rebound off the post before being cleared by John Terry. The same player had already wasted a wonderful chance from eight yards, glancing a header wide whilst unmarked, and headed again at the goal frame before Weather followed up, the defender heading also against Cudicini's crossbar. The rebound fell to ex-Arsenal striker Jeremie Aliadiere, who blazed over under pressure from John Terry and Wayne Bridge from seven yards.

Match Fact : Chelsea are 78 home league games unbeaten.

Chelsea: Cudicini (6), Belletti (4), Carvalho (8), Terry (7), Bridge (6), Ballack (6) (Wright-Phillips (6)), Essien (6), Mikel (7), Joe Cole (6), Drogba (6) (Alex (6)), Kalou (6) (Anelka (6)).

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Young, Wheater, Pogatetz, Taylor, O'Neil (Johnson 79), Cattermole (Shawky 89), Boateng, Downing, Sanli (Alves 64), Aliadiere.

Attendance: 39,993

Referee: Phil Dowd (4)

Man of the Match : Ricardo Carvalho


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