Babayaro The Goal Hero At The Bridge (Sky Sports)
Chelsea 1 Middlesbrough 0
Celestine Babayaro scored his first league goal in
over three years as Chelsea held on to third place in the Barclaycard
In an unispiring game the Blues always seemed to be in control but
yet again relied on a handful of amazing saves from goalkeeper Carlo
Schwarzer looked uncomfortable dealing with crosses - and from Le Saux's right-wing corner, he flapped at the ball and was relieved to see it flip over. George Boateng - never far from controversy - was lucky to escape without a booking when he elbowed Zola after 21 minutes. The Dutchman won the ball but also smacked the little Italian across the jaw with his right forearm.
The game was really opening up now, with Cudicini making a fine double save from Maccarone, who was clean through. Cudicini parried his fellow Italian's powerful drive and seized his follow-up effort.
Emmanuel Petit fired a left-foot volley two yards wide as the half hour mark neared. And after 40 minutes, Le Saux - who had swopped wings with Morris - crossed from the left and Zola firmly side-footed goalwards. Schwarzer reacted well to push the ball over his bar.
Whatever Ranieri said to his players at half-time worked because it took his team just two minutes of the second period to storm into the lead. Zola, in space as the Boro midfield went to sleep, dinked a delightful angled pass to the charging Babayaro.
The left-back cut in behind Stuart Parnaby and thundered his shot into the roof of Schwarzer's net from 10 yards. Nemeth made a mess of a tricky chance to haul his side level just before the hour. From a half-cleared cross, the Boro striker scuffed his angled volley across the face of goal.
Boateng, lucky not to enter referee Dowd's notebook for flooring Zola, was shown the yellow card for barging into Frank Lampard in the 68th minute. Lampard was in the thick of things now. He robbed his England colleague Gareth Southgate 40 yards out, advanced 15 yards before smacking a piledriver a foot wide.
Cudicini was again left exposed by his defence after 72 minutes. Geremi's threaded through ball found Boksic, who had just come off the bench. But Chelsea's number one was equal to the task and first dived at Boksic's feet and then smothered Whelan's immediate follow-up.
Boksic brilliantly twisted his body to side-foot a cross goalwards with five minutes left but his attempt deflected off Melchiot and over the top. Cudicini also parried Joseph-Desire Job's injury-time thunderbolt.
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Carlo Cudicini (Chelsea) - Yet again Cudicini one was on hand to save the day for the Blues. The Italian made a number of outstanding saves. Quality 'keeper.
Melchiot, Gallas, Desailly, Babayaro, Morris (Gronkjaer 45), Lampard,
Petit, Le Saux (Terry 85), Gudjohnsen (Hasselbaink 76), Zola.