Middlesbrough gave it a true go, but it wasn’t enough to get by the Premier League’s most in-form team.
Diego Costa struck just before halftime to become the first in the English top flight to a double-digit goal tally, and Chelsea clung to its lead under waves of pressure late as the Blues won their sixth straight match, keeping a clean sheet across all six.
The hosts looked dangerous on the break early. They charged forward on five minutes as Gaston Ramirez broke, but his ball into the middle for a wide-open Marten De Roon was behind him, and Alvaro Negredo eventually put the chance wide. Eden Hazard was felled hard by Adam Clayton minutes later, earning the latter the game’s first booking.
The game devolved into a foul-fest until the 28th minute when Chelsea had its first real chance. A ball over the back line fell to Victor Moses, who cut in from the right edge of the box. Moses cut back for Pedro waiting all alone in the middle of the box, and while the former Barcelona man will wish he put the finish further into the corner, his attempt to roof the ball was tipped superbly over the bar by the fingertips of his former teammate Victor Valdes.
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Negredo had a headed chance on 35 minutes, but he was put off by Ramirez who came flying in wanting to take the chance too, and it was sent wide. Chelsea then found the opener minutes from the break, as a Hazard corner fell into a crowd in the box, and Costa was the man quickest to the chance.
Halftime came without any more momentous occasions, but the goal had clearly put Chelsea on top of things at Riverside Stadium. The Blues had a chance just seconds out of the break, as a spin from Hazard sprung Marco Alonso. His sliding effort was saved by Valdes, and the rebound was sent over the bar by Calum Chambers who beat Pedro to the ball.
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Things were quiet before the hour mark, until Chelsea again began to pour forward. Costa threated Moses through brilliantly, but the Nigerian failed to score as Valdes closed him out. Costa picked out another teammate on 68 minutes as Pedro had Valdes beaten, but slammed the bar trying to place a shot into the corner.
Adama Traore was incisive for Middlesbrough, but he struggled to actually produce signifncant chances despite his ability to weave through players in midfield. Eventually, the hosts did have another chance to level things up. Traore left defenders in his wake before finding Negredo, who let it bounce before whacking a vicious volley that was well saved by Thibaut Courtois.
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Both teams had an attacking intent as the game wound down, with Middlesbrough truly going for a goal. Chelsea brought on Branislav Ivanovic to deal with the pressure from the home side, while Boro brought on Stewart Downing and Viktor Fischer. The subs wouldn’t change the flow of the game, as Chelsea hung on through four minutes of added time for the win.
The three points moves Chelsea top of the table, a place they deserve on their current run. Middlesbrough, meanwhile, gets nothing from its spirited effort, leaving Boro with 11 points in 15th place.