Chelsea cruelly expose Boro fault lines

FA CUP FINAL: Chelsea 2 (Di Matteo 1, Newton 83) Middlesbrough 0 Att: 79,160
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The Independent Online
Long after the final whistle on Saturday, when even the Chelsea fans, their blue flags still flying high, had left, there was a poignant meeting in the Wembley tunnel.

It was between Gianfranco Zola and Juninho. The little Italian reached out to hug the little Brazilian and offer a few words of comfort. It was a gesture of respect, from one great player to another, and it was laden with unintended irony.

For Zola had not played particularly well in Saturday's FA Cup final, not by his high standards. Juninho, as so often recently, had been magnificent, perpetually driving Middlesbrough forward. Yet it was Zola who had made a goal, Zola who had nearly scored, Zola who had an FA Cup winner's medal after Chelsea's 2-0 victory.

Juninho was left with only crushing disappointment. Again. It had been, he admitted sadly, "the worst season I have had". He hastened to add he was not referring to his own form. He went on to stress that his priority was being in Brazil's World Cup team and playing in the First Division was not going to help that. Unless Manchester United can achieve a transfer coup he is headed for Spain.

This is a great shame for English football and a massive blow to Middlesbrough. He was a bold signing but, unlike Chelsea, Boro did not realise that even magicians need support. The saddest sight of the day was Nigel Pearson hugging Juninho at the end. These two had produced the best individual performances of a disappointing game yet both lost.

Pearson was a giant of a captain but, apart from the assistance of Gianluca Festa, he and Juninho were playing Chelsea on their own. Their team-mates lacked either sufficient ability, application or fitness. Such is Boro's reliance on the few that Fabrizio Ravanelli was tried despite admitting on Friday he was not fit. "It was worth the gamble," Bryan Robson said. It is when the alternative is Mikkel Beck.

Meanwhile, Jan-Age Fjortoft, the striker Robson sold to Sheffield United in January, will play for a Premiership place in the play-offs at Wembley on Monday. John Hendrie, sold to Barnsley in October, is already up.

Middlesbrough will have a vault of money to spend when Juninho and company are sold. Maybe this time Robson will build a team instead of an unbalanced collection of resentful journeymen and, Juninho apart, posturing stars. Their supporters deserve it.

Chelsea are well short of being the finished article themselves but impressive foundations are in place both in the team and at their Stamford Bridge ground. Unlike previous eras the club are not stinting on the quality of their building, either in concrete or in people. Signings have already been made for next season and more will follow. Their British players will either have to improve, as Mark Hughes and Steve Clarke have done, or be faced with the choice between being bit-player or ex-player.

"We had players at the beginning who moaned about that situation but some of them played today," Gullit said. "Some of them left." One that did not, but thought about it, was Craig Burley. Left out of the 14, he may now reconsider.

Yet next year's blue promise is also a reason to stay. "The Premiership?" Gullit said. "We have some new players and we need time to adapt. We must continue to improve. We did very well against the big teams which shows we can play good football, but you don't win the championship by only beating big clubs. You need also to beat smaller clubs and we did not always do that. We play good football but are not always efficient.

"Now the players know what it feels like to win they will want to keep that. It was very important to get that first trophy."

For the first time, after weeks of speculation, Gullit also confirmed he wanted to stay at Chelsea for the foreseeable future. "I am happy to stay and I am not thinking about leaving. I have no intention of leaving Chelsea."

Gullit was still not prepared to discuss his contract (which has a year to run) but it was clear from the extensive celebrations that he and his chairman, Ken Bates, have a mutual affection and respect.

"It is a great year for all of us," Gullit added. "Mr Bates deserves it. He wants the best for Chelsea, people don't realise that all the time. Also for Matthew Harding, we feel he is still with us. It has been like a dream for me. I am so proud, more even than when Milan beat Steaua Bucharest [Gullit's first European Cup win]."

While Chelsea's celebrations were more entertaining than much of the match, there were moments to remember. Most came from Zola or Juninho but the most historic, and significant, was from Roberto Di Matteo after 43 seconds.

That was how long it took him to score the fastest Wembley FA Cup final goal, eclipsing Jackie Milburn's 45-second strike in 1955. Robbie Mustoe lost possession to Dennis Wise in midfield, he passed to Di Matteo 10 yards inside his own half. Nearly 40 yards later, and still unchallenged, Di Matteo dipped a powerful volley over Ben Roberts, who may reflect that he should have attempted a one-handed save.

By the half-hour, it seemed over, Mustoe having joined Ravanelli on the bench. But, with Chelsea wasting chances, Boro would have gone in level had not a marginal offside flag ruled out Festa's injury-time header.

Boro went close again after 55 minutes when Juninho broke. Di Matteo cynically brought him down on the edge of the area. It could be said that this act, added to his goal, earned his official man-of-the-match award but it should have disqualified him.

Roberts twice denied Zola before Steve Vickers, set up by Juninho, forced the first save from Frode Grodas after 79 minutes. This was a measure of Chelsea's defending; slick and committed, they caught Boro offside 16 times.

Eddie Newton secured victory, joyfully scoring his first goal in 18 months with good assistance from Dan Petrescu and Zola. Pearson, defiant to the last, attempted to save with his hands but like everything else in Boro's season, the ball escaped his grasp.

Goals: Di Matteo (1) 1-0; Newton (82) 2-0.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Grodas; Sinclair, Lebouef, Clarke, Minto; Petrescu, Di Matteo, Newton, Wise; Zola (Vialli, 88), Hughes. Substitutes not used: Myers, Hitchcock (gk).

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Roberts; Blackmore, Pearson, Festa, Fleming; Stamp, Emerson, Mustoe (Vickers, 28), Hignett (Kinder, 74); Juninho, Ravanelli (Beck, 23).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Bookings: Chelsea Newton, Di Matteo, Lebouef. Middlesbrough Festa.

Attendance: 79,160.

Man of the match: Juninho.