Drogba Late-Show Sinks Boro (Sky Sports)
Middlesbrough 0 Chelsea 1
A late Didier Drogba strike earned Chelsea all three points at The Riverside just when it seemed a goal would not arrive against Middlesbrough.
The Blues, who move top courtesy of the 1-0 win, always looked more likely to score but looked set for their third consecutive goalless draw after spurning a host of chances.
Drogba was one of the chief culprits, missing a glaring opportunity in the first half, but came good to fire just his second Premiership goal nine minutes from time.
The visitors made the better start and Paulo Ferreira delivered two fine crosses from the right inside the first five minutes that the outstanding Gareth Southgate was required to deal with.
The England international then made another superb last ditch block to deny John Terry after a corner had caused mayhem in the Boro box. As the hosts tried to break a retreating Terry caught former team-mate Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink with an ugly challenge that forced the striker from the pitch with blood pouring from a head wound.
He was to have seven stitches before returning to the fray after a lengthy absence.
Drogba spurned the first genuine chance when he sliced a left-foot volley wide of the target on 13 minutes.
With Hasselbaink still off the pitch, and no substitute having been brought on, Chelsea were dominant and Alexei Smertin went close to opening the scoring - Colin Cooper had to be alert to clear after Mark Schwarzer could only parry out the Russian's powerful low shot.
Schwarzer was then twice forced to come racing from his line to deny Drogba a sight of goal, firstly with his head - although the striker was flagged offside - and then he dived bravely at the striker's feet before clearing with his feet as the ball rolled loose.
Drogba really should have put the hosts in front just past the half hour mark but spurned a golden chance after a Lampard free-kick had broken to him. The England midfielder's ambitious long-range effort was intercepted by Franck Queudrue, but his block fell invitingly for Drogba - however the striker could only crash his shot against the bar from ten yards and Gallas was crowded out from the rebound.
The former Marseille hit-man Drogba threatened again four minutes before the break but was not able to shake off Colin Cooper to get a header on target from another inviting cross from Ferreira.
The hosts appealed for a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Damien Duff blocked Boudewijn Zenden's cross and, although the ball did appear to strike Duff's arm from close range, Mark Halsey correctly waved play on.
The game became a scrappy, disjointed affair at the start of the second period characterised by sloppy passing from both sides.
Boro had another, and far more convincing, shout for a penalty on 62 minutes when John Terry appeared to block Stuart Parnaby's long-range effort with his hand - once again Halsey ignored the appeals.
The official then infuriated the home fans further when he opted against sending off Smertin after the Russian committed two cynical fouls in quick succession but was only cautioned for the first.
With chances at a premium Drogba was left to hang his head on 73 minutes when he headed wastefully off target from a fine Duff cross under no real pressure.
However, the powerful front man made amends eight minutes later with a composed finish that made a mockery of his previous profligacy.
Lampard pulled back an intelligent ball to the edge of the box when it seemed he would float in a free-kick from the right, and Drogba dispatched a firm low shot that Schwarzer could only help into the net.
It was a fine strike and, although Middlesbrough rallied with some late pressure, it proved enough to take The Blues to the top of the Premiership pile for the first time since December 2002.
Parnaby, Queudrue, Southgate, Boateng, Doriva, Parlour (Job 36, Downing
66), Zenden, Hasselbaink, Viduka (Morrison 76)
Subs Not Used Nash, McMahon
Gallas, Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Duff (Huth 88), Lampard, Makelele,
Smertin (Tiago 65), Drogba, Gudjohnsen (Kezman 65)
Subs Not Used Pidgeley, Cole
Goals Drogba 81