Middlesbrough 0, Chelsea 2: Drogba's display dispels talk of unrest... for now

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The Independent Online

Valencia away: won. Bolton away: won. Middlesbrough away: won. Consider those three fixtures after Avram Grant had his first at Stamford Bridge, a 0-0 draw against Fulham, and consider the state he and Chelsea would be in if all three had gone the other way. Or two of them. Or even one.

So volatile is the atmosphere Grant was pitched into at Chelsea that for him to have emerged intact from six fixtures in total – five of which have been on the road – is a statement about his personal stickability. Only one has been lost, the first, at Manchester United.

Chelsea now face Schalke in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night and the mood, reception and result will reveal much about where the club and Grant are one month after Jose Mourinho's departure. Bearing in mind that under 25,000 turned up for the Rosenborg game in the same competition, the attendance will be worth noting too.

It is much too soon to say a corner has been turned. Didier Drogba, who indicated his desire to move, was not the only player to talk during the international break; so did Florent Malouda and his opinion is: "We cannot say the club is back on track and not in crisis. Honestly, right now we can't pretend we can win the Premier League. Even if we won in Valencia and Bolton, we are not dominating and we didn't really control the game."

That does not smell like team spirit. But as each games goes by, the relentlessness of football at Chelsea's level means the focus on the past should fade, even one orchestrated by Mourinho.

Nothing helps the present quite like victories, of course. Defeat here, where Chelsea had lost on their previous two visits, and the body language of Drogba and others would have been deconstructed. Instead the sometimes want-away striker scored in the eighth minute and led the line with endeavour and skill.

According to Petr Cech, Drogba has rationalised his comments to his teammates. They appear to have accepted his version.

"Of course we are together as a team," the goalkeeper said. "He [Drogba] explained himself which he has a right to do. Everyone has a right to do that. As long as he plays 100 per cent for the team, and he's been doing that for years, doing it every time, then that's fine.

"Didier's best answer was today on the pitch. He gave absolutely 100 per cent for us. He played an important game and found a crucial goal. What more can you say than that?"

Well, plenty. But on Saturday how Drogba played did matter and he did not sulk.

Grant used the word "entertainment" when outlining an overall philosophy but this performance was more about Chelsea's competence, Drogba's toughness and Middlesbrough's diffidence than a sudden switch to Keeganism at the Bridge. How Grant, Roman Abramovich and Henk Ten Cate approach the visit of Manchester City on Saturday will be instructive: City have more points and have scored more and conceded less.

Here, there was an old-fashioned blockbuster of a second goal from Alex but judgment can wait, particularly given Boro's poor display. Gareth Southgate has a bedrock of goodwill on Teesside but it will be eroded by efforts like this – why pick Tuncay Sanli ahead of Lee Cattermole?

But there were no raucous jeers at the end. Not even for Drogba, who kissed his shirt a few days after disowning it.

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