Middlesbrough 1-0 Chelsea: Hayden Hackney earns Championship side first-leg lead in Carabao Cup semi-final… with Cole Palmer missing a sitter as Blues lose for NINTH time already this season
Michael Carrick doesn’t like the comparisons with the Golden Generation. No wonder he does excellent management work.
He joked this week that the media never considered him as part of that set as a player. Now he single-handedly distances himself from their management problems.
Carrick is good, and so is his team. They were of great value to the lead they will take at Stamford Bridge in a fortnight’s time. In his first full season in the dugout, the Middlesbrough boss is one game away from a place at Wembley.
He needs that less than Mauricio Pochettino, but Carrick’s players certainly wanted it more than Argentina’s. They really are a silly bunch, proof that you can buy players, but not a team.
Chelsea were booed at full time by some of their own fans. It was a surprise that they had waited until then. For too long it felt like they were playing with the complacency of knowing there would be a second leg. Their manager may not have a leg to stand on if they fail to turn the tie around.
Middlesbrough secured a famous 1-0 victory over Chelsea in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final
Chelsea have work to do in the second leg after being frustrated by the Championship team on Tuesday night
Midfielder Hayden Hackney put Middlesbrough ahead against Chelsea in the 37th minute
Isaiah Jones’ cross was shot in from six yards out by the late-arriving Hackney
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Pochettino said beforehand that Chelsea should treat their Championship opponents as if they were the best team in the world. Perhaps his side took that instruction too literally, as it was not until Boro scored through Hayden Hackney in the 37th minute that they attempted to exert some of the superiority that should have been evident from the start.
But when Chelsea came into action late on in search of an equalizer, Boro pushed them into a hole. Their early flair had given way to defiance and how their supporters were enjoying it, even if this is just half-time.
Hackney were the goalscorer, but their star man was midfielder Dan Barlaser. Not far behind in contributing to Boro’s lead was Chelsea’s Cole Palmer. His miss in first-half stoppage time drew laughter from the home crowd, a volley over the crossbar from three yards after Tom Glover had spilled a shot into his path.
Palmer was not smiling, nor was he earlier in the half when he intercepted Jonny Howson’s errant pass – his only misstep of the evening – and, with only Glover to beat, the England striker dragged wide.
Cole Palmer missed a sitter for Chelsea in the first half against Middlesbrough on Tuesday evening
Palmer shot over the bar with the goal gaping after Tom Glover spilled Enzo Fernandez’s shot
Chelsea midfielder Palmer dragged another effort wide in the first half, with only Glover to beat
But don’t be fooled into thinking this was also a catalog of missed opportunities. Chelsea forced just one save from Glover in the second half and on this evidence the match remains at 50-50.
Those chances were heavily weighted in Chelsea’s favor before kick-off. Boro had gone from the plum draw of Port Vale in the quarter-final to the bitter lemon of the Blues. They had lost their previous nine against the West Londoners.
Not only that, the last time they met in this competition was in the 1998 final, a 2-0 defeat. That was Paul Gascoigne’s debut and despite being a second-string side, he was one of seven internationals. Here that number was zero, highlighting the gap between the teams. Not that you would know.
Pochettino appointing two goalkeepers to a bench with one substitute less than the allowed number did not garner much sympathy, not when they started with two midfielders in Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo, both costing more than £100m.
Conor Gallagher completed the midfield and you suspect Pochettino is using the captain’s armband as a barbed wire around a player he wants to keep this month. However, the club wants to make the ‘pure profit’ from selling an academy graduate into an FFP world.
There is another way to get around the limitations off the pitch, and that is to perform better than Chelsea are currently doing. They started the way they wanted to continue: badly. Malo Gusto tried to get back to his goalkeeper within 30 seconds, or at least that’s what you thought he meant.
The hosts had to make a second substitution when Alex Bangura had to leave due to injury
The left back made such a mess that Boro’s Emmanuel Latte Lathe was at fault. Perhaps the Ivorian caught a cold – it was 2 degrees at kick-off – because Axel Disasi made enough ground to distract the striker, whose weak shot was collected by Djordje Petrovic.
It wasn’t until you saw a replay that you realized why Latte Lathe had been left behind: the connection of Disasi’s studs on his ankle. Would VAR intervene? Well, it might have been if the absence of the technology at the Riverside Stadium hadn’t led to the EFL removing it from both semi-finals.
Carrick spoke on the eve of the match about his most important belief: encouraging his players to express themselves. They must have listened as the hosts stumbled their way to a deserved lead.
Middlesbrough striker Emmanuel Latte Lath was sent off after being caught by Axel Disasi
Barlaser dropped a ball of perfect weight for Isaiah Jones to chase down and the winger turned Levi Colwill in and out before rolling into the goalmouth for Hackney to head home.
The goalscorer only returned last week after a six-week absence, and with them the Premier League talent spotters. They were here again last night and although the 21-year-old will remain this month – especially given the possibility of a Carabao Cup final – he will almost certainly be playing in the top flight next season. Boro will need promotion to be at their club.
You wouldn’t bet on that if Carrick continues to make a name for himself, and this was his best yet. Pochettino is now starting to look more like the Golden Generation he once played against.