Middlesbrough 3 Chelsea 0: Rochemback's strike restores faith in McClaren

Brazilian sparks Boro revival to return smile to their troubled manager's face and forces a shocked Mourinho to digest his worst defeat in the League
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The Independent Football

Steve McClaren just knew, he claimed during the week, that the sun would shine again. Even he could not have imagined that it would do so this quickly. Yesterday, it not only smiled on the beleaguered Boro manager but brought a flush of rouge to those already rubicund features. For once, it was a glow of pleasure; not anger.

For his counterpart Jose Mourinho, standing sullenly in the shadows, witnessing only the third Premiership defeat during his Chelsea stewardship, there was probably a sense that it just wasn't meant to be from the moment the excellent Fabio Rochemback had established an early advantage.

Just how do you explain the vagaries of the old game? By any rationale, except maybe a crucial one - a similarly embarrassing defeat inflicted on Sir Alex Ferguson's men back in October - McClaren's men did not have a prayer against the champions-elect. This was merely about damage limitation, wasn't it? In the end, it was - but for Chelsea, as the home crowd, who last week departed venting their disgust after the 4-0 defeat by Aston Villa, began chanting: "Easy, easy..."

After making the rather strange admission that he admires it "when small teams fight with their lives", the Chelsea manager added: "This was the worst we've played in the Premiership. We lost to both Manchester City and Manchester United 1-0, but they were not deserved. Today it was deserved, although 3-0 was too much. The first goal was ridiculous, the second goal was stupid, and the third inconsequential."

What started as an afternoon most observers anticipated would contribute only to further head-swelling of Mourinho's men ended as one of temple-clutching by Chelsea, who enjoyed enough possession and dominated periods of play, particularly in the second half - which Mourinho described as "playing against 10 defenders and one withdrawn striker" - but were undone by a resourceful rearguard. In Yakubu Aiyegbeni Boro also possessed a potent striker who made England and Portugal's pre-eminent centre-backs, John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, appear ordinary.

Yet, the portents had been ominous for Boro. It had been six League games since they last registered victory here. It provoked the thought beforehand that McClaren would need to harness some of the electricity, Dr Frankenstein-like, which Boro are planning to produce from the stadium's own wind turbine, to raise his players from their lifeless forms of late. Somehow, though, he achieved it with this most spirited exhibition.

The thought among the home faithful is less about renewable energy and more about renewing season tickets, rather than hurling them at McClaren, as one supporter did last week.

"If a week is a long time in politics it's even longer in football," said McClaren. "Credit to the players. They've always stuck together, despite all the criticism we've had recently. We had men out there today and that made all the difference. We have big players to come back."

With Mark Viduka sent home ill and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on the bench, McClaren opted for a lone raider in Yakubu, and within 90 seconds the Nigerian had set up Rochemback for his first Boro goal. After eluding John Terry, the Brazilian's shot made Petr Cech look mortal.

Thereafter in the first half, the contest reverted to an anticipated format, with Eidur Gudjohnsen and Frank Lampard prominent, but unproductive. Apart from a swirling drive from the latter, there was nothing to trouble Mark Schwarzer.

The visitors' William Gallas was injured, and replaced by Maniche, who went into midfield, leaving Michael Essien to occupy left-back, and it was the Ghanaian who produced a wicked effort from range. Schwarzer was nearly deceived, and Hernan Crespo dashed in, but the goalkeeper did enough to deny the Chelsea striker.

On the stroke of half-time, Boro did the unthinkable against a team who had, before yesterday, conceded only six Premiership away goals. Stewart Downing unleashed a shot which Cech probably saw late because of Gaizka Mendieta and a defender obscuring his view.

Mourinho responded at half-time by sending on Carlton Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips, and withdrawing Joe Cole and Geremi. Arjen Robben went close and Chelsea laid seige on the home goal. But midway through the half, Yakubu escaped the attentions of Carvalho, cut in towards goal, left Terry for dead, too, before placing the ball precisely beyond Cech. Chelsea's Cole struck a post but by then it was irrelevant.

Rochemback could have made it four, but for a flying save by Cech. At the whistle, Gareth Southgate pumped his fist delightedly as Chelsea sloped off. A day long remembered by Boro. One for Chelsea to forget.

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