Colin Malam reports from Wembley (Courtesy of the
Chelsea (1) 2 Middlesbrough (0) 0
CHELSEA won the FA Cup for only the second time with two
excellent goals but not a lot else. The London team were so
superior on the day, they ought to have won a disappointing
final with far more style and authority. Middlesbrough,
perhaps exhausted at the end of their long and trying
season, offered little resistance.
The game was over almost as soon as it had
started, Chelsea's Roberto Di Matteo striking a knockout
blow with a stunning goal in record time. Middlesbrough
never really recovered from the setback and rarely looked
like threatening Ruud Gullit's achievement of becoming the
first foreigner to manage an FA Cup-winning team.
Sadly, Gullit's Middlesbrough counterpart,
Bryan Robson, is left to pick up the pieces of a shattered
and shattering season. It will take a considerable feat of
management by him to renew the ambition of the Teesside club
after losing two Wembley finals and being relegated to the
The battle of the two little geniuses,
Chelsea's Gianfranco Zola and Middlesbrough's Juninho, did
not live up to expectations but was clearly won by Zola.
While Juninho struggled to escape the midfield attentions of
Di Matteo, rightly voted man of the match, Eddie Newton and
Dennis Wise, Zola made his side's second goal and nearly got
When the teams were finally announced
shortly before the kick-off, Mikkel Beck, Middlesbrough's
Danish striker, was probably the most disappointed man in
the stadium. Bryan Robson chose to sacrifice Beck's striking
power for the sake of having Phil Stamp's battling qualities
in the crucial, ball- winning area of the field.
The good news for the Middlesbrough fans,
of course, was that Fabrizio Ravanelli was regarded as
having recovered sufficiently from the back problem which
had threatened his appearance in this match. Even so, there
had to be an element of risk in selecting someone who had
not played since limping out of his club's thrilling 3-3
draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford less than a
Like Beck, Chelsea's Gianluca Vialli had
nothing to smile about. He, too, was relegated to the
substitutes' bench, though that was fully expected after the
Italian international's failure to keep Mark Hughes out of
the side all season and his well-publicised differences of
opinion with Gullit.
Even Vialli's face must have lit up,
though, at the sensational start Chelsea made to the match
on a hot, humid afternoon. They took the lead in the first
minute with a searing shot from Di Matteo. Picking up a pass
from Wise, who had won the ball from Robbie Mustoe, the
Italy midfielder ran unchallenged from inside his own half
before beating Ben Roberts from 25 yards with a shot that
dipped wickedly over the young Middlesbrough goalkeeper and
went in off the crossbar.
It was a stunning blow made possible not
only by Di Matteo's mastery of technique but also the
clever, diversionary run by Hughes that removed Nigel
Pearson as the last line of a defence.
The goal was timed at 42 seconds, which
made it the fastest scored in an FA Cup final this century.
It beat by three seconds the goal with which Jackie Milburn
put Newcastle ahead against Manchester City in 1955.
Juninho raised Middlesbrough's hopes of an
equaliser with a typically astute through ball, but Frode
Grodas beat Stamp to it with a well-timed dash from his
Middlesbrough suffered another severe blow
after 21 minutes when Ravanelli limped off the field
following his unsuccessful attempt to beat Frank Sinclair to
a through ball. Obviously, the Italian's recovery had been
far from complete in the short time available for
Only five minutes after Beck had replaced
Ravanelli, Middlesbrough made another substitution, Steve
Vickers replacing Mustoe. It was not entirely clear whether
Mustoe was injured or simply replaced. At all events,
Vickers went into the back-four alongside Pearson, thus
releasing Gianluca Festa to take over from Mustoe as the
Chelsea's domination of the midfield
brought them other scoring chances in the first half.
Pearson needed to be at his most alert and determined to
head a Dan Petrescu lob off the goal-line, while Roberts had
to fling himself across his line to stop Zola increasing
Chelsea's lead with more Italian virtuosity at a free-kick.
Yet another of the many Italians on show,
Festa, climbed well at the far post to head Stamp's centre
past Grodas in stoppage time at the end of the opening 45
minutes, but the defender-turned-midfielder was reduced to
arm-waving frustration by the referee's correct decision to
disallow the goal for offside.
The second half began unpromisingly, with
only the booking of Chelsea's Di Matteo and Middlesbrough's
Festa to relieve the tedium. Not until Frank Leboeuf failed
to cut out Beck's back-header from Clayton Blackmore's long
throw after 64 minutes was there even the sniff of a scoring
chance. In the event, Pearson prodded the ball wide.
Chelsea's strange unwillingness, for a long time, to go in
search of a second, clinching goal encouraged Middlesbrough
to go forward but they could not attack with sufficient
co-ordination to pierce the Londoners' defence. Now and
again, too, Chelsea reminded their opponents of the damage
they were capable of inflicting when the spirit moved them.
In one marvellous little cameo, Zola beat
three men before cutting back inside from the byline and
striking the sort of shot that had sunk England here not so
long ago. This time, Roberts avoided the embarrassment
suffered by Ian Walker and stopped the ball beating him at
his near post - seemingly with his face. Juninho did not have any impact on the match
until, perhaps losing his temper, he began a running feud
with Leboeuf in the last 20 minutes. Fouled by the French
defender, the little Brazilian used a quick free-kick to
release Vickers on the left for a shot Grodas saved with his
legs as he came off his line.
But Middlesbrough's final, desperate
attempt to draw level cost them dear as Chelsea hit them on
the break. The ball shuttled between Newton and Petrescu
before the Romanian chipped a pass to Zola, running in at
the far post. It looked to be going behind him, but the
diminutive Italian improvised brilliantly by flicking the
ball back with the outside of his right foot.
It was a perfect pass to Newton, following
up in the middle of the goalmouth, and all the midfielder
had to do was steer the ball into the net with his left foot
as it bounced up in front of him. That was the signal for
Gullit to let Vialli have his two minutes of fame as
substitute for Zola, and for the stadium to fill the
overwhelming sound of Blue is the Colour.