Drogba ends Chelsea's five-hour goal wait

Middlesbrough 0 - Chelsea 1
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The Independent Football

Not even close: an ugly left-footed slash horribly wide, and a header directed so poorly that it went away from the goal as if repelled by magnetic force.

A bit closer: desperate blocks by Gareth Southgate after wicked near post crosses from Paulo Ferreira and Alexei Smertin, and then a thump in the back from Franck Queudrue as another enticing Damien Duff ball flew overhead.

Closer still: a slam against the underside of the bar which was so venomous that William Gallas was not athletic enough to turn in the bouncing ricochet.

All Didier Drogba. And 310 minutes since Chelsea's last goal.

"I was thinking during the game that with a team playing like us I shouldn't be too worried about being scoreless," the Chelsea coach, Jose Mourinho, said afterwards. "When the team isn't doing enough to score goals you have to improve the way you play. When a team is playing so well it is a case of putting the ball in the net and not on the post or not letting the goalkeeper save."

Finally, - just as the third consecutive 0-0 seemed inevitable - Drogba found the target, missed the woodwork, beat the keeper and put the ball in the net. "So the goal arrive, I don't know how to say in English," and, wordless, Mourinho breathed a volcanic sigh of relief.

Lampard, whose cunning low free-kick created the 81st-minute opening, explained the goal and the scorer: "I spotted Didi and cut it back. He darts around and has an instinct for goal. For this one he was clever. He hung behind the defence and had the power and sniff of goal to win the game." He also explained why this was only Chelsea's seventh goal in seven Premiership games. "You have to have a foundation before the goals come," he said. "A lot of it is down to a) we have not converted as many as we want to and b) teams defend against us. Boro are an exciting, fluent team and we ended up making them defend for most of the game. That is something we are coming up against and you are not always going to win three or four nil."

Mourinho issued more of a threat than a promise. "One day," he said, "and we don't know who or when, a team will be unlucky and we will score every chance and it will be four or five nil." Perhaps his former club Porto in the Champions' League on Wednesday? "For me, that is just a match I want to win because if we win we have six points in two matches, and we almost have two feet in the next round of the Champions' League," he said without emotion.

Middlesbrough, too, have midweek European entertainment, defending a 3-0 lead in the Czech Republic against Banik Ostrava. On Saturday, they were weakened by injuries - Gaizka Mendieta the biggest miss in a predictable side - and then lost Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to a head wound, Ray Parlour to a knee gash and Mark Viduka and substitute Joseph-Desiré Job to hamstring niggles.

"We're struggling at the moment looking at them walking out of the dressing room," said the manager Steve McClaren, "but we'll look at them on Monday and see what comes back - if anything." But it was not just absenteeism that caused Boro's downfall because on the day their most reliable player was the 37-year-old Colin Cooper and the most exciting, the 18-year-old substitute James Morrison.

After half-time, Hasselbaink was forcibly returned to the dressing room to change a blood-splattered shirt. He returned, tucking in Ugo Ehiogu's No 4 top because there were no replacement No 18s available.

"We didn't have enough of anything on the day, did we," said McClaren ruefully.

And he was absolutely right.

Goal: Drogba (81) 0-1

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Southgate, Cooper, Queudrue; Parlour (Job, 36, Downing, 66) Boateng, Doriva, Zenden; Hasselbaink, Viduka (Morrison, 76). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), McMahon.

Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Gallas; Makelele; Smertin (Tiago, 64), Lampard; Gudjohnsen (Kezman, 64), Drogba, Duff (Huth 87). Substitutes not used: Pidgeley (gk), J Cole.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire)

Booking: Chelsea Smertin

Attendance: 32,341

Man of the Match: Drogba.