Chelsea 3 Middlesbrough 0: Dead-eye Drogba restores status quo

Ivorian notches 25th goal as Chelsea make it three years unbeaten at Stamford Bridge

The two-horse race that is the Premiership this season - one nag more than for the past two campaigns - goes into the last few furlongs with the same six lengths between the protagonists. Chelsea, like Manchester United, were not at their best yesterday in what Jose Mourinho had called the second of "five cup finals" this month - this one was more Millwall against United than Liverpool against West Ham.

But on a poor pitch, the champions improved in the second half to inflict a first defeat of 2007 on Gareth Southgate's dogged Middlesbrough. That ensured that they will make it three years unbeaten at home; though merely avoiding defeat, as Mourinho had emphasised, was not the objective yesterday.

As happens too often to be coincidental, one of his substitutions reaped rich reward, Arjen Robben having barely removed his tracksuit before forcing the crucial second goal to deflate the visitors. Didier Drogba's double, one just before the interval and the other late on, carried him to 25 for the season and in Andriy Shevchenko, he had a partner working harder and growing in confidence. Perhaps he could pass some of both qualities on to the other major summer acquisition Michael Ballack, who was not missed here.

The strikers were up against a defence lacking not only Jonathan Woodgate who - it almost goes without saying - had failed to come through England's game in midweek without suffering an injury, but also Robert Huth, who Mourinho must surely regret selling last summer. Yesterday John Terry was back but Ricardo Carvalho had developed flu so Michael Essien was forced to remain in the centre of defence. The potentially menacing partnership of Mark Viduka and Yakubu gave them little trouble, Viduka wasting Boro's best chance of the game from a free header. So Chelsea completed a fifth successive clean sheet, during which time they have scored 14 times.

Mourinho kept his thoughts on the performance to himself, rushing off for a few days at home and sending his rather less verbose assistant Steve Clarke to face the media. "A difficult first half and a great time to score just before half-time," was Clarke's perfunctory summary.

It would have been more entertaining to hear his boss's version of a touchline spat with Southgate in the first half. The Middlesbrough manager, once such a mild-mannered young man, leapt to his feet in protest at Drogba's clumsy challenge on Emanuel Pogatetz, drawing a finger-to-lips rebuke from Mourinho. Southgate responded angrily and the fourth official had to step between them. "Apparently I'm not allowed to give an opinion on a decision," Southgate said.

Little had happened before that, except Drogba hitting two shots wide and Viduka heading Stewart Downing's cross feebly wide. Then, right on half-time, Abel Xavier passed up two opportunities to clear following a scramble and Chelsea won a free-kick a yard outside the penalty area. All 10 outfield players lined up to defend it, but Terry and Claude Makelele pulled out of the wall to leave a gap through which Drogba placed a shot that Mark Schwarzer should have come closer to saving.

Forcing Julio Arca to head off the line from Shevchenko early in the second half might have induced a sense of complacency among the crowd, if not the home side. Both elements were reminded how fragile the one-goal margin was when Middlesbrough's left back Andrew Taylor essayed a cross from the touchline that dipped over Petr Cech and hit the crossbar.

However, an injury then offered Mourinho the opportunity for a first substitution that had a dramatic effect. Diarra hobbled off to be replaced by Robben, returning for the first time since coming off early in last month's defeat at Liverpool. Within 30 seconds, the Dutchman fell over while bursting into the penalty area but jumped up quickly enough for once to latch onto Salomon Kalou's lay-off and hit a shot that the unfortunate Xavier diverted past a helpless goalkeeper. With eight minutes remaining, Drogba sealed the victory when he struck a free-kick from out on the left that flew into the far corner of the net via Andrew Davies's head.

"We gave a decent account of ourselves," Southgate insisted. That has not been sufficient to bring any team a Premiership victory here since a chap called Claudio Ranieri was Chelsea's manager.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game