Boro Pounce On Moody Blues (Sky Sports)

Chelsea 1 -1 Middlesbrough

FA Carling Premiership

Darren Steward reports

Middlesbrough grafted for their hard-earned point at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea's European hangover continued into the weekend.

Hamilton Ricard equalised Gus Poyet's early goal to leave the Londoners' top three hopes in the balance.  

The Blues started brightly and had the ball in the Middlesbrough net within three minutes. Gabriele Ambrosetti swung over a swirling cross which was headed back across the area, and Poyet was there to head in. However, the assistant referee's flag went up.

But the Uruguayan - left out in the Nou Camp - made sure just six minutes later. Dennis Wise supplied the cross and Poyet rose above the Middlesbrough defence to nod in his 16th goal of the season.

It was no more than Gianluca's bruised and valiant European journeymen deserved.

Gianfranco Zola turned inside and fashioned an effort which swung tantalisingly inches beyond Schwarzer's far post.

With Didier Deschamps and Wise dominant in midfield it was largely one-way traffic and it took Middlesbrough almost half an hour to post their first real attempt on goal, a flaccid header from Ricard.

Middlesbrough netted a surprise equaliser in the 36th minute however. Christian Ziege crossed and Ricard was lurking completely unmarked slamming home from three yards.

Then Ziege fired a shot over from a good position inside the area as Bryan Robson's side took heart.

In the 57th minute, however, Chelsea were very close to taking the lead once more. Ambrosetti latched on to Zola's pass and surged forward before unleashing a left foot shot which hit the inside of the post. Chris Sutton's diving header zipped a yard wide on the hour - oh for a goal Chris - and a minute later Zola was replaced by substitute Tore Andre Flo. The decision was treated with derision by the unhappy Stamford Bridge faithful.

Middlesbrough were now resurgent and might have netted twice in two minutes half-way through the second half.

First Paul Ince smashed a thunderbolt shot just wide. Then Ricard dashed clear but with only the Chelsea goalkeeper to beat he crashed his shot against Ed De Goey's legs. In the final reckoning, a draw was perhaps a fair reflection of the play, but that will be of little consolation for Vialli's men, who must face Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in the run-in.

The Champions League experience may prove to have been a one-season wonder.

Chelsea: De Goey, Melchiot (Harley 72), Thome, Desailly, Lambourde, Poyet, Deschamps (Morris 61), Wise, Ambrosetti, Sutton, Zola (Flo 61).
Subs Not Used: Leboeuf, Cudicini.
Goals: Poyet 10.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Cooper, Vickers, Festa, Fleming, Summerbell, Ince, Mustoe, Ziege, Deane, Ricard (Campbell 78).
Subs Not Used: Beresford, Stamp, Maddison, Juninho.
Booked: Fleming.
Goals: Ricard 37.
Att: 34,467
Ref: U Rennie (Sheffield).