A day which started with a blasé defence by Jose Mourinho of John Terry's habit of frequenting bookie shops with obscenely large wads of cash, ended with the Chelsea captain scoring the only goal and a quip from the manager explaining why the two had high-fived so enthusiastically on the touchline: "Because I bet that he would score," Mourinho said.
Given that Terry was a 25-1 shot - having not struck in the Premiership all season - then the Special One can expect a special return for his wager. He may be disappointed, though, because Terry's thumping header, from a corner, was initially blocked by Fabio Rochemback, who then appeared to turn it over the line himself. An own goal? Probably.
It was tough on Middlesbrough, who were organised and resilient, especially through their captain, Gareth Southgate, and the intuitive creativity of Rochemback, but there had been warnings. Twice before he scored, Terry had goal-bound headers cleared. Both times Rochemback had done his job on the line. The Brazilian could not execute a hat-trick of denials and his side were beaten.
"The game started in a way that you felt things are going on your side," said Mourinho, referring to a missed opportunity by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who slammed a low shot against a post after the ball broke to him following Terry's block on Yakubu Aiyegbeni's shot. He should have scored.
Hasselbaink's desperate appeal for a penalty, claiming a tug by Asier del Horno, was born of frustration. It could have transformed matters as Chelsea, despite being back on track after their wobble, appeared strangely vulnerable.
Middlesbrough controlled proceedings until a flash of brilliance from Arjen Robben changed the impetus. The winger skipped between two challenges and away from a third before cutting the ball back only for Mark Schwarzer's boot to divert it away. The goalkeeper then rushed from goal to tackle the onrushing Didier Drogba and palmed down Frank Lampard's drive before Robben, twisting brilliantly, dumped Doriva on the turf to tee up Lampard again. He screwed his shot wide.
"We are in early December and a player like him needs to give us a lot," Mourinho said of Robben, his injuries and the so-called fragility of his mental approach having caused irritation. "He has given us very little." The inference was maybe that was about to change and Robben, in for the injured Joe Cole, looked relieved as he was substituted late on.
That followed Terry's goal, from Damien Duff's corner, and although Robben faded, the Irishman grew in influence, taking the challenge to Middlesbrough, riding challenges, and slaloming through to set up Drogba. The striker's miss was pathetic as was his attempt to blame the irregularity of the Stamford Bridge turf. "I think we should score more goals," said Mourinho with a shrug, before declaring a "bigger result" would have been unfair on the visitors.
Middlesbrough's manager, Steve McClaren, went further, lauding the contribution of the talented Rochemback - "he's going to be a great player for us" - and the "fantastic attitude" of a team who have completed five games in 13 days. "I think Chelsea would admit that it was one of the more difficult afternoons here for some time," he said.
That may have been the case but the relentless march of the champions continues and no one, surely, would bet against them right now.Reuse content