Middlesbrough 1-0 Chelsea: Hackney the hero as Wembley looms on the horizon

Premier League opposition awaited Michael Carrick’s Middlesbrough side in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final, in the form of Chelsea. Mauricio Pochettino’s side were firm favourites ahead of the match at the Riverside Stadium and the Argentine would be hoping for a dominant victory against their Championship opponents, ahead of the return fixture at Stamford Bridge in two weeks time, with a place at Wembley in the final at stake.

MID: Glover; Bangura, Engel, Fry, van den Berg, Jones; Hackney, Howson, Barlaser; Crooks, Latte Lath

CHE: Petrovic; Colwill, Silva, Disasi, Gusto; Gallagher, Caicedo, Fernandez; Sterling, Palmer, Madueke

The home fans were in a buoyant and hopeful mood as the game kicked off, and almost had immediate cause for celebration as Emmanuel Latte Lath was played in behind within the first thirty seconds of the game. The Ivorian would have hoped to do better with his strike that was comfortably gathered by Djordje Petrovic, but he was pressured well by Axel Disasi, with the Frenchmen making a lunging attempt at the ball and forcing the shot to be taken quickly, but also catching the striker on the heel in a heavy but fair challenge.

Latte Lath’s night would be cut short only three minutes later, as the injury picked up in that collision with Disasi would mean the striker was unable to continue; Josh Coburn would be brought on in his place. The early subsitution did little to quell the attacking intent from Boro however and they kept pushing for an opening goal. The Injury woes would worsen for Carrick’s side as Alex Bangura would be forced off in the 18th minute with an apparent hamstring injury, to be replaced by Matt Clarke.

As the half wore on, Chelsea would start to dictate the possesion and would begin probing further forward in the oppositions half. The first meaningful opportunity for the Blues would come in the 30th minute through Cole Palmer. After excellent pressing from the Englishmen, Palmer would intercept a loose pass from Daniel Barlaser and make a charge towards goal. However, with only Tom Glover, the Middlesbrough goalkeeper to beat, Chelsea’s top scorer would drag his shot wide of the left-hand post, when it seemed easier to score.

Chelsea would continue dominating the chances, but it would be the home side that would take the lead in the 35th minute, against the run of play. A long ball over the top was chased down by Isaiah Jones, and after excellent work from the winger, his driven pass into the area would find the feet of the on-rushing Hayden Hackney to sweep home and put Middlesbrough ahead on the night by a goal to nil.

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With six minutes of injury time added before the half time whistle due to the earlier incidences, the away side kept pushing for an equaliser. Another glorious opportunity would go begging for the Blues, with Palmer once again failing to convert. With two minutes of the half remaining, an outside of the box Enzo Fernandez strike was palmed poorly by Glover, but the keeper was not punished for his error as Palmer blazed his cushioned shot over the bar.

The second half began with Middlesbrough looking to hold on to their slender lead. Pochettino, clearly not impressed with his sides efforts in the first half, was not afraid to make substitutions early, and brought Mykhailo Mudryk and Armando Broja on with only an hour gone, with the Blues still trailing.

As the half wore on, Chelsea hastled and harried in pursuit of a goal but could not breakdown Middlesbrough’s stubborn defence. Crosses into the area were easily dealt with and the away side could not find the extra bit of quality to create any meaningful attempts on goal and Boro were eventually able to hold on for a famous victory against prestigious opposition.

Michael Carrick’s side will have a mammoth task in two weeks time away at Stamford Bridge to get a positive result, but they have certainly left themselves in the best position possible with a win this evening. For Chelsea, all the pressure will be on them to overturn the defecit in the tie, if they hold any hopes of keeping their dreams of silverware alive this season.