Middlesbrough 0-1 Chelsea

Dean Gripton reporting

A terrible week for Gianluca Vialli ended on a high as his Chelsea team ground out the sort of result that all championship-chasing teams need.

The Middlesbrough fans turned up expecting to see their latest heroes, Juninho and Paul Gascoigne, see off a Chelsea side that had never even scored a Premiership goal here. Instead they witnessed a visiting side that was able to frustrate the Boro' flair before finding their own killer blow on the break.

Vialli's own little magician, Gianfranco Zola, took a 54th minute free-kick outside the area on the right-wing. He feigned to cross, fooling Mark Schwarzer in the 'Boro goal by shooting and, though the Australian goalkeeper reached the shot, he could only help it on to the crossbar from where Bernard Lambourde bundled in from a yard for his first Premiership goal.

Instead of the envisaged Gazza and Juno show the entertainment ended as farce with the mercurial England international, left on the bench after a fitness doubt, sent off in injury-time after foul and abusive language in mysterious circumstances.

The packed Riverside crowd didn't see 90 minutes of Juninho either, with six minutes to go he was withdrawn after recieving plenty of niggling attention.

Indeed, Juninho was always going to be the centre of attention and all was well early on. The home crowd quickly got some value for money from the little Brazilian, who nutmegged Chris Sutton just outside his own penalty area amid joyous flag-waving and merriment.

Chelsea appeared to have a let-off in those early stages when Hamilton Ricard's header appeared to hit French defender Bernard Lambourde's arm, but Paul Alcock waved away the appeals.

Ricard - who Bryan Robson is considering resting after his continuous football involvement over the last 2 years, with the 1998 World Cup and this summer's Copa America - didn't seen tired early on and he made himself a menace early on.

The first good impression for Chelsea was a buccaneering Lambourde run, from which they won a corner. But all the early good impressions were made by the home side who were playing at an amazing tempo.

Sutton, who used to be a defender, was booked for foul on Juninho after 20 minutes. Chelsea were looking slow out of the blocks - a good example of this being Deschamps, with plenty of time, making a pass to Graeme Le Saux that was much too short.

Christian Ziege's foul on Dan Petrescu resulted in a booking as the Romanian made a rare foray forward midway through the first half.

Zola span into a shot after the first real Blues passing move but didn't get any power to the drive after 23 minutes.

Frank Leboeuf and Ricard began a first-half duel when first the Frenchman caught the Colombian and then Middlesbrough's striker took revenge moments later, physios coming on both times.

Chelsea had succeeding in stifling the home side's early gusto and when Keith O'Neill was booked the game had disappointingly died as a spectacle.

Middlesbrough thought they had a penalty before half-time when O'Neill increased the tempo of his game and took on Bernard Lambourde, and could consider himself lucky not to have been booked for diving.

Chelsea had a corner taken by the Italian Ambrosetti, who looked impressive in patches. After Sutton had won the near post corner Leboeuf could not get a shot in and when the ball finally teed itself up for Dennis Wise 'Boro were able to clear with a great challenge from Wise's shadow, that unsung workhorse Robbie Mustoe, an early substitute for Paul Ince.

Chelsea averted a potential crisis two minutes later when Juninho - him again - was fouled brusquely by Leboeuf outside the penalty area but Ziege's fee-kick only struck the wall.

Gabriele Ambrosetti should have done better when Chelsea broke in the 67th minute as Chelsea began to dominate. And Sutton could not believe another Alcock decision when a blatant Colin Cooper elbow hit his face as the two players jockeyed for position with Zola attacking Curtis Fleming. Cooper was penalised only with a yellow card, but why no penalty?

Juninho made a chance for Brian Deane - a goal in his last three home games which were all won - with twenty minutes to go and the big striker was instantly taken off - not due to the miss, which was unlucky, but to bring on Gascoigne to field what must have been the most exciting Boro' midfield in the club's history.

Or so we thought.

Ziege's later-cross headed powerfully but over by Gary Pallister before Gascoigne's silly late dismissal.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Fleming, Festa, Pallister, Cooper, Ziege, Juninho (Armstrong 89), Ince (Mustoe 35), O'Neill, Deane (Gascoigne 70), Ricard.
Subs Not Used: Vickers, Roberts.
Sent Off: Gascoigne (90).
Booked: Ziege, O'Neill, Ricard, Cooper.

Chelsea: De Goey, Lambourde, Leboeuf, Desailly, Le Saux, Petrescu, Deschamps (Morris 90), Wise, Ambrosetti (Babayaro 70), Sutton, Zola (Flo 70).
Subs Not Used: Hogh, Cudicini.
Booked: Sutton, Desailly, Petrescu, Deschamps.
Goals: Lambourde 54.
Att: 34,183
Ref: P Alcock (Halstead).