Chelsea 1 Middlesbrough 0: Terry underlines why bets are off on champions

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Jose Mourinho was the charming poster boy on a day when his team produced an ultimate display of both their strength and, speaking strictly artistically, weakness. He made a joke, answered every question on its face value, and even had a word of sympathy for Arsenal. No, he sighed, it's not easy getting anything out of Bolton, and if Arsenal had slipped 14 points behind his team, they, like the hard-running Liverpool and Manchester United, could not be ruled out of anything.

Maybe Mourinho's engaging performance was some acknowledgement that his team can produce everything but that charm he was now laying on with a silver trowel.

It is not as if Chelsea lack the capacity to thrill. Arjen Robben produced a couple of runs which delighted all the football senses, as did his fellow wide man Damien Duff, but they were isolated spurts rather than seamless rhythm and it was the head of John Terry that separated the champions from an impressively combative Middlesbrough.

It is some head, though, at least when it is required to deal solely with the imperatives of the football field. Off it, Mourinho picked up on one of his captain's revealed weaknesses, a strong gambling tendency, when he said that Terry had rushed to him after his fiercely headed goal because he knew he had made a bet on his scoring.

Given Chelsea's fierce application at set pieces, this is always going to be a low-odds proposition and when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink snatched at an early chance and merely hit the post you knew that the most likely decisive strike would come from the Chelsea captain at a corner or free-kick, or from Frank Lampard anywhere in a wide arc of danger. Lampard, though, fell into Hasselbaink's error at least three times and of course it is true that when he is not pulling the trigger his virtues are merely of a high order in club football, rather than part of any inflated claims that he might be a world player of the year.

This brought confirmation of the idea that if Chelsea fans have become the smuggest in the land over the last year or so their football diet is not exactly brimming with excitement. Going to Stamford Bridge now is bit like attending a board meeting. The agenda is all spelt out. Chelsea press and press and eventually they gain a breakthrough. Then they make an announcement of no further business.

Gareth Southgate, at 35, a splendid figure of resistance to the Chelsea way of winning, spoke eloquently for the cannon fodder, saying: "We did cause them a lot of trouble. We wanted to come here and have a go. The feeling was that you come here and sit back and get well beaten, so let's have a go. We did that and credit to us for it. But in the end the result is the same. But at least our performance puts us into a more positive frame of mind.

"They only need one little glimmer. John Terry is an outstanding leader of his team - and an outstanding player. He attacks the ball as well as anyone I've ever seen. A lot of his game reminds me of Tony Adams. I couldn't give him a bigger compliment. He draws so much from the players around him. As for England, well in central defence it's a case of him and another. He's there and he is going to take some shifting."

So, of course, are Chelsea. The aspirations of other teams, strong unity and a clear understanding of what they are attempting to do, have long since become Chelsea's certainties.

Mourinho, in a way subtle by his own often bombastic standards, said as much when he considered the marginal impact of his £21m substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips.

"We have players operating in a fantastic way," said the Special One. "I think Duff showed today the player he is. Joe Cole didn't play but he has been our best player in some matches, and Robben is Robben. Shaun is playing this role and, of course, he is looking for his chance to make a bigger impact, but the season is big.

"To arrive and make an impact is not easy when it is a team of champions and you have come from a team like Manchester City, who have different objectives to us. You come here with a responsibility to win every game and not to waste points. It is difficult and we are giving him time to adapt. He is happy in this group and the good performances will come."

Who could not be happy at Chelsea, the match-winner wanted to know. Terry talked of the team-bonding that goes on in exhaustive Playstation sessions that now have become social occasions. Pro Revolution 5 is the current convivial battleground. On the field Mourinho's revolution goes on about as light-heartedly as maximum production in a war-time weapons plant.

All the targets, including the opposing net, are hit sooner or later. Terry's goal might have been augmented by at least three or four, and that was the only subdued talking point when the latest three points were gathered in.

Michael Essien filled in for Claude Makelele as the defensive midfielder and, as always, hurtled through his duties. Didier Drogba reminded us that nobody misses goal chances more spectacularly. Eidur Gudjohnsen was pale and was withdrawn. Chelsea, with Gérémi on for the Icelander, then proceeded to squeeze away all the drama that might have been left in the afternoon.

Cue Mourinho for a little soft-shoe verbal dancing. He remains the most compelling cabaret act at Stamford Bridge. But then if he doesn't entertain, who will? Entertainment is not on the agenda and nobody knows this better than Wright-Phillips. He came on with 16 minutes to go. The team, like the audience, were already warming down.

Goal: Terry (61) 1-0.

Chelsea (4-4-3) : Cech; Gallas, Carvalho, Terry, Del Horno; Lampard, Essien, Gudjohnsen (Gérémi,64); Robben (Wright-Phillips, 74), Drogba (C Cole, 78), Duff. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Ferreira.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2) : Schwarzer; Bates, Riggott, Southgate, Pogatetz; Boeteng, Doriva, Morrison (Queudrue, 81), Rochemback; Hasselbaink (Viduka, 72), Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Ehiogu, Johnson.

Referee : M Riley (West Yorkshire).

Man of the match: Southgate.

Attendance : 41,666.