Football: Vialli's selflessness primes Chelsea's deserved victory

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 2 Middlesbrough 0

Sinclair 95 Att: 77,698

Di Matteo 107

After extra time; 0-0 at 90 minutes

THE abiding memory of Middlesbrough's cup final losses last year is Juninho's tears. Paul Gascoigne used to be like that but he is becoming inured to disappointment. Yesterday's Coca-Cola Cup final was just another dose. At least he did not get taken off on a stretcher off on his return to English football but he should have been sent off and never made the impact he and Middlesbrough had dreamed of.

The England midfielder was overshadowed by a less celebrated World Cup hopeful, Jamaica's Frank Sinclair. The Lambeth-born Chelsea defender, often criticised for his technique, scored the goal which broke 94 minutes of deadlock and earned Chelsea their second major trophy in 10 months.

Roberto Di Matteo, who scored in Chelsea's 2-0 defeat of Middlesbrough on the same ground in last May's FA Cup final, added a second 10 minutes later as Chelsea were ultimately comfortable winners.

Middlesbrough pushed them a lot harder than they had in May but, with Paul Merson curiously withdrawn to a wide right role, rarely looked like scoring. Chelsea, though slow to start, were always the more dangerous and by the end, could have won by several goals.

The victory justified Gianluca Vialli's brave and selfless decision to leave himself out. His compensation was a trophy, 76 days after taking over as manager, which he himself accepted from Jack Straw, the Home Secretary. Chelsea will now go to Italy this week full of confidence as they attempt to reach the European Cup-Winners' Cup final. Middlesbrough's hopes will go with them; if Chelsea succeed Boro will enter the Uefa Cup next season while Chelsea defend the Cup-Winners' Cup.

While Vialli wore a suit, Mark Hughes and Gianfranco Zola led the attack with Tore Andre Flo in reserve. On the opposite bench was Gascoigne, apparently at his own request - he did not feel it right to displace the players who had got Boro to Wembley.

The changes at the Riverside since May were obvious in the teamsheet, Boro had only three survivors, Chelsea had eight. Initially, Chelsea did not seem to appreciate the difference and were surprised as Boro took command of midfield with Nigel Pearson and Neil Maddison having early chances.

By this stage last May Chelsea had been one up but it took them eight minutes to have a shot, Dan Petrescu evoking memories by driving just over the bar from a similar position to Roberto Di Matteo's 43-second FA Cup score.

The Italian had a go himself after 15 minutes but Middlesbrough continued to dominate possession. In a match involving 13 nationalities the dominant early influence was the most local, the Harlesden-born Merson, who continually exposed Graeme Le Saux's lack of match fitness. However, with Merson wide, Boro lacked a cutting edge and struggled to create chances.

Chelsea, though seeing less of the ball, could have scored twice through Hughes midway through the half. With 21 minutes gone the Welshman met Le Saux's fine cross with a trademark volley and Mark Schwarzer made a stunning one-handed save to his right. Three minutes later the Australian denied Hughes again, scrambling away a far post header on his knees from Zola's deep cross.

Chelsea gradually took control and, after Zola struck the bar and Di Matteo drilled a shot just wide around the hour, Robson finally brought on his joker. A bold move - except he brought off the ineffectual Hamilton Ricard, kept Merson wide, left Marco Branca alone in attack and flooded the midfield.

Gascoigne certainly made an impact, the game became niggly and bogged down in midfield. Gascoigne was booked for fouling Zola, Wise for fouling Gascoigne. The game drifted and Chelsea, searching for a winner, moved Le Saux into midfield and brought on Flo.

When extra time arrived Chelsea had more ideas and energy. Merson, long anonymous, briefly attempted to stem the blue tide but then Gascoigne, attempting to find him, gave the ball away to Sinclair. The defender fed Zola and headed for the box where, seconds later, he met Wise's cross to score.

Boro brought on Mikkel Beck, moved Merson into the hole, and were promptly overrun in midfield. Two minutes before the end of the first period Wise burst through the middle, Gascoigne went with him but, with no prospect of outpacing Wise, brought him down. Any other player, on any other occasion, would have received a second yellow card but Peter Jones stilled his hand. World Cup referees are unlikely to be as lenient.

Franck Leboeuf, Wise and Flo went close again before Di Matteo tapped in a Zola corner which Robbie Mustoe unaccountably ducked under. Chelsea could have scored more but Boro did not deserve that. Now they, and Gascoigne, must lift themselves for the promotion campaign. The alternative does not bear thinking about, even for a mind as imaginative as Gascoigne's.

Goals: Sinclair (95) 1-0; Di Matteo (107) 2-0.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Sinclair, Duberry, Leboeuf, Le Saux; Petrescu (Clarke, 74), Wise, Newton, Di Matteo; M Hughes (Flo, 82), Zola. Substitute not used: Hitchcock (gk).

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Festa, Vickers, Pearson, Kinder; Merson, Maddison (Beck, 101), Mustoe, Townsend; Branca, Ricard (Gascoigne, 64). Substitute not used: Fleming.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Chelsea: Hughes, Le Saux, Wise, Leboeuf. Middlesbrough: Townsend, Gascoigne.

Man of the match: Wise.

Attendance: 77,698.