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Saturday, 16 November, 2002, 16:56 GMT
Chelsea edge out Boro
Szilard Nemeth comes under pressure from Chelsea's Marcel Desailly
Boro could find no way past the Chelsea defence
Chlesea 1-0 Middlesbrough

Celestine Babayaro's first league goal in more than three years gave Chelsea a valuable victory over Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge.

Boro arrived in west London aiming to leapfrog the third-placed Blues in the Premiership table.

But despite more than holding their own early on, the visitors were undone by Babayaro's finish less than two minutes into the second half.

Chelsea needed double saves from Carlo Cudicini either side of the break to survive but their greater invention was ultimately worthy of the win.

  Key moments
23 mins: Cudicini twice denies Macarone
39 mins: Schwarzer saves from Zola
47 mins: Babayaro puts Chelsea ahead
72 mins: Cudicini keeps out Boksic and Whelan

That attacking flair took a long time to emerge, however, as Middlesbrough reached half-time with the Premiership's joint-best defensive record intact.

Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer parried over a deft goal-bound effort from Gianfranco Zola in the 39th minute but was otherwise rarely troubled before the break.

Cudicini was equally under-employed in the Chelsea goal but remained sufficiently focused to deny Massimo Maccarone with a sharp double save midway through the half.

The Italian striker ignored the unmarked Geremi to go for goal himself, only for Cudicini to parry his first effort and then pounce on the follow-up.


We stayed calm and waited for our chance to arrive
Claudio Ranieri
Chelsea manager

However, Chelsea's struggle to establish their rhythm ended just 90 seconds into the second half with Babayaro's well-worked opening goal.

Zola picked out his left-wing run with a delightful angled pass that allowed the Nigerian to skip past Stuart Parnaby and beat Schwarzer with a right-foot finish.

The half-time introduction of Jesper Gronkjaer wide on the right gave an extra dimension to Chelsea's attack.

And with Boro's midfield cover becoming increasingly stretched by the home team's new width, the Blues began to take control.


Claudio Ranieri said we were the best team to come to Stamford Bridge this season
Steve McClaren
Boro boss

Graeme Le Saux and Frank Lampard both went close midway through the half, before Middlesbrough made a double change.

Boro boss Steve McClaren threw on strikers Alen Boksic and Noel Whelan in place of Maccarone and Szilard Nemeth with 20 minutes to play.

And the substitutes almost made an immediate impact, as Cudicini first saved well from Boksic before denying Whelan on the rebound.

Mario Melchiot then deflected a Geremi shot over the bar seven minutes from time but Chelsea held out to strengthen their hold on third place.


Chelsea: Cudicini, Melchiot, Gallas, Desailly, Babayaro, Morris (Gronkjaer 45), Lampard, Petit, Le Saux (Terry 85), Gudjohnsen (Hasselbaink 76), Zola.
Subs Not Used: De Lucas, Pidgeley.

Booked: Petit, Melchiot.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Parnaby (Queudrue 67), Ehiogu, Southgate, Vidmar, Geremi, Boateng, Greening, Job, Nemeth (Boksic 71), Maccarone (Whelan 71).
Subs Not Used: Crossley, Wilkshire.

Booked: Boateng.

Attendance: 39,064.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Five Live's Bob Ballard
"Zola's magic turned the game for Chelsea"
Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri
"It was a vey difficult match"
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