Chelsea moved into second place in the Premier League after securing a comfortable win over Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge thanks to two Salomon Kalou goals.
The first half was a quiet affair, with Chelsea dominating possession, but failing to create too many clear-cut opportunities. Ashley Cole came the closest with an early header that shaved the outside of the post.
Didier Drogba was introduced after the half-time interval, and within 12 minutes, moments after missing a glorious opportunity from close-range, Kalou smashed the ball home after Boro failed to clear a corner (57).
The Blues continued to improve markedly as the half progressed, and the Ivorian was on hand to add his and Chelsea’s second after some suspect goalkeeping from Ross Turnbull (81).
Chelsea have now won four games on the bounce since their morale-denting loss to Manchester United, and with Liverpool’s failure to beat Wigan Athletic, the Blues move into second spot. Middlesbrough, on the other hand, remain in the relegation places.
Drogba had to settle for a place on the substitutes’ bench for Chelsea, with Nicolas Anelka again preferred in the lone striking role. John Terry returned to the team in place of Ricardo Carvalho, and Jon Obi Mikel came back into the XI in place of Juliano Belletti, as the Blues lined up in their familiar 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation.
Middlesbrough made four changes from the side that defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup. New signing Marlon King was handed his debut, although he was played on his own in attack, meaning Alfonso Alves and Tuncay Sanli had to make do with a place on the bench.
Boro replaced goalkeeper Brad Jones with Turnbull, while Emmanuel Pogatetz and Tony McMahon were the other two players to come into the side.
Cole should really have done better with his first half header, but could only manage to hit the side-netting after a cross meant for Anelka eluded the Frenchman.
That was the best chance created for either side, the Blues failing to make their dominant possession count. With Liverpool also leading at half-time, things did not look like they would turn out well - much to the frustration of the home support.
Disappointed at his side’s first half showing, Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari decided to change things around, Drogba being brought on for Florent Malouda as the Blues switched to a 4-4-2.
And the striker had the chance to make an instant impact, but he dragged his effort from 18 yards comfortably wide of the far post in the 47th minute.
Kalou then wasted a glorious opportunity from close to the goal-line after a rampaging run from Terry had earned Scolari’s men a corner.
But moments after his miss, Kalou made amends to give Chelsea the lead. Frank Lampard floated in a corner, which was not properly cleared by David Wheater, allowing the Ivorian to smash his shot home from eight yards.
Alves and Tuncay were brought on as Boro boss Gareth Southgate looked to get his side back into the game, but it was Chelsea who continued to make all the running, Kalou slipping at the vital moment when a simple pass would have set up Anelka to score.
The second goal soon arrived, when another Lampard corner was mis-judged by Turnbull, allowing Kalou to apply the finish in front of an empty net.
All of a sudden things looked so much better for the Londoners, and when news of Wigan’s equaliser against Liverpool broke, Stamford Bridge let out its biggest cheer of the night.
Boro were well organised, but other than a late Alves effort which was blocked, they offered little going forward, their game-plan having been undone when Kalou scored the opener.
Chris Myson, Goal.com