Chelsea 5 Middlesbrough 0
If their credentials were to be judged solely on the basis of this match, Glenn Hoddle would be the next coach of England and Bryan Robson would be on the dole.
Such an assessment is grossly unfair on Robson, whose Middlesbrough side have shown promise and imagination this season, but the extent of their humiliation yesterday certainly underlined the qualities Hoddle has to offer.
Although Chelsea's opening goal, the first of a Gavin Peacock hat-trick, was controversial, that should not be allowed to detract from their superiority. The Middlesbrough defence had been on the brink of fracture long before then. Afterwards it shattered like a pane of glass.
Chelsea were, quite simply, beautiful to watch. After two and a half years of development, Hoddle's footballing vision has finally been realised. Their passing, movement and respect for possession was exceptional.
The finishing was impressive too, John Spencer and Paul Furlong adding to Peacock's treble - the first Chelsea hat-trick for nearly six years. The victory was their best in the top flight since beating Birmingham 6-1 in 1964.
At the centre of it all was Ruud Gullit. When he was not physically involved in a move he was there in spirit. At one point, with Chelsea 5-0 up, he gave Spencer a dressing down for attempting a hopeful 40-yard ball down the middle when a shorter, more certain one was on.
Gullit was not physically involved in the first goal - or was he? The referee, Keith Cooper, thought not, but Gary Walsh is unlikely to agree. The Middlesbrough goalkeeper was clearly unsighted by Gullit, who was standing in an offside position, as Peacock volleyed a half-cleared corner just inside the far post.
Middlesbrough were without their own foreign star, Juninho. More crucially, five successive League defeats have left them almost bereft of confidence. Now it drained away like the winter sun.
Chelsea, by contrast, were bubbling with belief in themselves and Hoddle's system. Two minutes later Spencer ran on to an exquisite pass from Dan Petrescu to make it 2-0. Then Gullit played a 40-yard one-two with Spencer and drove into the area before squaring for Peacock to score.
In recent weeks Chelsea have let games slip from their control but this time there was no let-up. Eight minutes into the second half Gullit found Petrescu with a perfect 40-yard crossfield pass. As Spencer drew the defence with an overlap, the Romanian curled a pass into Furlong. He shrugged off a challenge with his first touch and thumped the ball home with the second. A man transformed from the lumbering figure of a few months ago.
The fifth followed almost immediately. Walsh and Steve Vickers hesitated over Spencer's long ball and Peacock nipped in to score. Now Chelsea relaxed but their supporters, doing a conga in the West Stand, could forgive them that. Paul Wilkinson even hit the post for Middlesbrough late on but there was to be no consolation.
"It was very disappointing," Robson said. "The lads are still learning in this League and a club like ours are going to struggle when we have four or five players out."
"We were fantastic," said Hoddle who, like Robson, played down any talk of the England post. "We have been working at this for two years. We played some excellent stuff. If we can reproduce that week in, week out, there is no limit to what we can achieve. And we can get better. Confidence is three-quarters of it. The game is played in the mind first."
But, Chelsea being Chelsea, there had to be a downside. Before the game Ken Bates rubbished a report which suggested he and Matthew Harding had fallen out again. After it, Hoddle had to intervene as former Chelsea heroes Alan Hudson and Peter Osgood became involved in a heated row with Mike Kelly, goalkeeping coach to England and Middlesbrough. It was the only time Boro stood up to Chelsea all day.
Goals: Peacock (29) 1-0; Spencer (31) 2-0; Peacock (38) 3-0; Furlong (53) 4-0; Peacock (55) 5-0.
Chelsea (3-5-1-1): Hitchcock; Clarke, Lee, Sinclair (Johnsen, 80); Petrescu, Gullit, Newton, Peacock, Phelan; Spencer (J Morris, 70); Furlong. Substitute not used: Kharin (gk).
Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Walsh; Cox, Vickers, Pearson, C Morris; Hignett, O'Halloran, Liddle, Blackmore, Barmby; Fjortoft (Wilkinson, 60). Substitutes not used: Moreno, Barron.
Referee: K Cooper (Mid-Glamorgan).
Bookings: Chelsea: Spencer, Sinclair. Middlesbrough: Morris, Liddle.
Man of the match: Gullit. Attendance: 21,060.Reuse content