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The BBC's John Murray
"Chelsea's hopes of returning to the Champions League are slim"
 real 28k

Saturday, 22 April, 2000, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Chelsea stumble in Euro bid

Gustavo Poyet heads Chelsea in front
Chelsea 1-1 Middlesbrough

There was a distinct feeling of what-might-have-been about Stamford Bridge on Saturday after the valiant and breathless performance in midweek against Barcelona when Chelsea came within seven minutes of a European Cup semi-final.

Instead, after this mundane draw, they have the prospect of going to Old Trafford on Monday for Manchester United's Premiership title party knowing they have precious little chance of joining them in the Champions League next season.

They outplayed Middlesbrough for large parts of this match and displayed all the quality, most of the style and created a series of gilt-edged opportunities after Gustavo Poyet had given the Blues the lead with a close-range header within the first 10 minutes.

But ultimately, whether through tiredness or anti-climax, they failed to deliver the three points which would have at least given them a battling chance of finishing in the top three.



Chelsea were unable to extend their lead
And so often hasn't that been the story of Chelsea's season in the Premiership - losing games they should have won easily because they had one eye elsewhere.

Their best chance of a European place now comes via a Cup final victory over Aston Villa,.

Not that we should undersell Middlesbrough, who have flourished with a late-season rally and showed the battling qualities manager Bryan Robson has been calling for all season.

In Paul Ince they had the deserved man-of-the-match, a feisty, tenacious performance.

Chelsea, however, could not have started more brightly, threatening to overwhelm Middlesbrough in the first quarter of an hour.

The goal, after nine minutes came when Dennis Wise provided a wickedly swinging corners which caused chaos in the Middlesbrough defence, allowing Poyet to rise and head home from a couple of yards.



Dennis Wise provided a wickedly-swinging corner
It seemed Chelsea would run away with it such was their domination in those early stages, but they do have a tendency to sit back and admire their own passing patterns.

And suddenly Middlesbrough awoke from their slumbers to equalise completely against the run of play.

They won a corner on the right and Christian Ziege swept over a deep cross which Gianluca Festa latched onto at the far post, heading the ball back across goal for Ricard to tap home from six yards.

Still Chelsea looked in control and in the 56th minute could not have come closer to scoring.

Ambrosetti latched on to Zola's pass and steamed forward before unleashing a left foot shot which struck the inside of the post and ran across the goal-line before running away to safety.

Middlesbrough also had their chances and no-one could fault the extra application Robson has instilled in his side in the latter stages of the season.

Indeed, Ince might have scored with a 20-yard thunderbolt which went just wide and then Ricard was clean through with only Ed De Goey to beat but he fired straight at the goalkeeper's legs.

The Londoner's Premiership run-in is daunting - Manchester United on Monday and then away games with Liverpool and Arsenal before finishing their season at Stamford Bridge against Derby.

Teams:

Chelsea: De Goey, Melchiot, Thome, Desailly, Lambourde, Poyet, Deschamps, Wise, Ambrosetti, Sutton, Zola. Subs: Leboeuf, Flo, Morris, Cudicini, Harley.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Cooper, Vickers, Festa, Fleming, Summerbell, Ince, Mustoe, Ziege, Deane, Ricard. Subs: Beresford, Stamp, Maddison, Campbell, Juninho.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield)

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