THE BIGGEST cheer during Chelsea’s dull mastery of ambition-free Middlesbrough came towards the end of wednesday’s encounter – and it had nothing to do with anything being witnessed on the pitch.
The inspiration was news that Liverpool had surrendered the lead at Wigan’s JJB Stadium and were again heading for a draw.
It means the Blues will be ahead of the Reds and in second place when the teams meet at Anfield on Sunday. But unless our eyes are deceiving us, the fight for bragging rights between the teams will be a squabble of no great consequence unless both sides can pick up their form... and quickly.
At the moment, Man United must be startled at how slight the challenge to their supremacy is becoming. Liverpool’s hopes are collapsing under a surfeit of draws while the Blues fail to convince.
Chelsea took a long time to get going and were actually booed off by a significant number of fans at half-time. Two Salomon Kalou goals from Frank Lampard corners were enough to bring a 2-0 win, but no home fan would have left Stamford Bridge brimming with optimism about their title chances.
So dull was the fare that Ray Wilkins – once again assigned post-match media duties – was left to field questions about Luiz Felipe Scolari’s attempt to get a Boro player sent off and Kalou’s ‘handcuff’ goal celebrations that were unwise in light of the furore caused by previous instances this season of players showing solidarity with convicted criminals.
Part of the fault lies with Middlesbrough, it has to be said, whose very presence at the Bridge seems an act of utter futility.
One day, they might just realise that defending for 90 minutes only to inevitable lose 1-0 or 2-0 is a pointless activity. Life is surely too short to spend it on eternal pursuit of damage limitation.
It is nearly 34 years since they last won at Chelsea and no-one can really remember them ever having a shot at goal in all that time, let alone a goal.
To coin Jose Mourinho’s famous phrase, they aim to park the bus, but always seem to forget their shield is usually no bigger than a bubble car and their cunning scheme never pays off.
Be that as it may, there is no conviction about the Blues at the moment and until, or if, Deco and Drogba rediscover their form, they will be operating on memory alone and just hoping to somehow stick to Alex Ferguson’s coat-tails.