Football: Chelsea are rebuffed by Falconer

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough . . . 2

Chelsea. . . . . . .1

CHELSEA'S hopes of an extended FA Cup run to make amends for their Coca-Cola Cup defeat a week ago by Crystal Palace were dashed at Ayresome Park last night when a late and unexpected goal by Middlesbrough's Willie Falconer knocked them out of the competition. It was a cruel blow for the Londoners, who had dominated most of the first half and had taken the lead in the 70th minute through an own goal by Nicky Mohan.

Chelsea's advantage was short- lived. Middlesbrough came back strongly and within two minutes were on level terms. Kevin Hitchcock, who had an otherwise immaculate game, fumbled a centre under pressure from Paul Wilkinson, Middlesbrough's tall, rangy striker. The ball ran to winger Tommy Wright, who forced it over the line.

Middlesbrough's winner came in the 82nd minute. The substitute, Jamie Pollock, who had deputised for the injured Curtis Fleming as early as the 14th minute, punted a 40-yard free-kick into the Chelsea penalty area. Nobody picked up Falconer, who stole up on the blind side of the defence to steer the ball into the far corner from the edge of the six-yard box.

Chelsea searched desperately for an equaliser but were denied by the alertness and bravery of Stephen Pears. He made a point-blank save from John Spencer and then threw himself to his right to catch Eddie Newton's close-range effort.

It was a bitter anticlimax for Chelsea, who had been much the more impressive side, particularly in the first half. With Graham Stuart and Graeme Le Saux looking lively down the wings and Robert Fleck and Mick Harford, playing neat combination moves through the middle, Middlesbrough were hard-pressed to contain Chelsea.

Perhaps the turning point for Chelsea came early in the second half when they lost the injured David Lee, a confident figure at the back. He was replaced by Craig Burley, who played creditably, but Lee's influence was sorely missed.

Chelsea took the lead when Mohan sent the ball beyond his own keeper after a centre from Le Saux was just missed by Andy Townsend. The tie seemed to be going Chelsea's way, but suddenly Middlesbrough were level. They did not look like scoring again until Chelsea let their guard down and another Wednesday night cup match ended in disappointment.

Middlesbrough: Pears; Fleming (Pollock, 14), Phillips, Mohan, Gittens, Kavanagh (Proctor, 80), Hendrie, Peake, Wilkinson, Falconer, Wright.

Chelsea: Hitchcock; Clarke (Spencer, 87) Sinclair, Townsend, Lee (Burley, 52), Donaghy, Stuart, Fleck, Harford, Newton, Le Saux.

Referee: J Key (Sheffield).