Eidur Makes Boro Pay (Sky
|FA Carling Premiership|
Scott Barefoot reports
Middlesbrough coach Terry Venables endured a disappointing return to his old stamping ground after Chelsea condemned his side to another Stamford Bridge defeat.
Boro have not won at the Bridge since March 1975 and goals in each half from Gianfranco Zola and substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen guaranteed the men from the Riverside will spend the rest of the season trying to keep their head above water.
Boro, who eaqualised through debut boy Dean Windass just before the hour, fell deeper into the Premiership mire as Coventry, Bradford and Everton all registered victory in their respective games to turn the relegation dogfight into an x-rated affair.
With only two defeats in their past 14 Premiership games, Boro have still yet to escape the danger and without Paul Ince, Ugo Ehiogu and Phil Stamp through suspension they struggled to contain a Chelsea side still patently in a period of transition.
For all their individual promise the west Londoners are still failing to become the sum of their parts and even with the likes of Marcel Desailly, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Jesper Gronkjaer, they clearly have someway to go before they establish themselves among the best in England.
Even so, Claudio Ranieri's men, still reeling from their 4-2 capitulation against Sunderland a fortnight ago, had more than enough to run out victorious over the side that beat them by the only goal on Teesside in December - the first victory of Venables impressive Boro reign.
It has been on rock solid foundations that the former England manager - who made 237 appearances for the Blues in the 1960's - has based Boro's recent resurgence and they were more than happy to throw everyone behind the ball and hope for a piece of magic from lone striker Alen Boksic at the other end.
However Boro's defensive policy suffered a setback after six minutes when Keith O'Neill had to replace the injured Colin Cooper and fiesty midfielder Robbie Mustoe received a yellow card when he felled Dennis Wise with a dangerous lunge.
Despite the Blues territorial superiority it was Windass, making his first start for the club since his deadline day move from fellow strugglers Bradford City, who shaved a post when he evaded marker John Terry to head O'Neill's corner wide from six-yards.
Then Boksic, who was the belligerent Boro's only real attacking force, escaped Desailly's grasp when he played an inadvertent one-two with the French World Cup winner and was presented with a clean sight of goal on 28 minutes. Boksic found the net from a narrow angle, albeit on the wrong side of the right hand post and Chelsea breathed again.
Seven minutes later Stamford Bridge rose to its feet acclaiming their impish Italian Zola when he confidently met Babayaro's precision cross and rooted Mark Schwarzer with a powerful header at the near post. It was the games first flowing move with the 35-year-old finishing it with style.
The crowd were warmed by the appearance of Seventies superstar Charlie Cooke at half time but 15 minutes after the restart they were silenced when Windass arrived late at the back post to dive and head home. The equaliser owed everything to Boksic's persistence and Karembeu's pinpoint ball that simply demanded to be hit home.
The goal shook Chelsea out of their apathy and Stanic nearly guaranteed the points when he hooked home from another superb Babayaro cross. Gudjohnsen did, however, when he made up for the Croat's profligacy moments later, latching onto Noel Whelan's suicidal backpass and calmly chipping home over Schwarzer for his third in as many games.
Chelsea had further chances of their own, with John Terry volleying just over and Stanic skimming the crossbar with a drive. They could not rest easy as Boro, albeit not exactly frantically, searched for a late equaliser with Boksic's volley coming close but the Blues were strong enough to hold on.
MAN OF THE MATCH: JIMMY-FLOYD HASSELBAINK
The Dutchman legs were as busy as his mouth has been in the past two weeks. Never stopped running and was a constant threat.
Chelsea: Cudicini, Babayaro,
Desailly, Terry, Melchiot (Le Saux 66), Wise, Stanic, Dalla Bona,
Gronkjaer (Gudjohnsen 45), Zola, Hasselbaink.
Subs Not Used: de Goey, Jokanovic, Harley.
Booked: Zola, Dalla Bona.
Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Vickers, Festa, Cooper (O'Neill 6), Gavin, Karembeu (Ricard 69), Mustoe, Okon, Boksic, Windass (Marinelli 70), Whelan.
Subs Not Used: Gordon, Crossley.
Referee: P Jones (Loughborough)