Poacher Costa sends Chelsea top of ta­ble


MID­DLES­BROUGH: Diego Costa scored his 10th goal of the sea­son as Chelsea won 1-0 at Mid­dles­brough to record a sixth con­sec­u­tive vic­tory and take over at the Premier League sum­mit.

Costa struck for the third straight game with half­time ap­proach­ing as An­to­nio Conte’s side un­der­lined their ti­tle cre­den­tials by post­ing a sixth clean sheet in a row. It took them a point clear of Liver­pool and Manch­ester City, and three ahead of fourth-place Arse­nal. Only the wood­work pre­vented Chelsea from win­ning by a more hand­some mar­gin as Pe­dro Ro­driguez hit the bar mid­way through the sec­ond half, dur­ing which Mid­dles­brough were forced to hang on for long spells.

Ai­tor Karanka’s side re­tained hope while the deficit re­mained at a sin­gle goal, but the gulf in class be­tween the sides was clear and it leaves Boro one point above the rel­e­ga­tion zone in their first sea­son back in the Premier League fol­low­ing pro­mo­tion.

Costa re­warded Chelsea’s dom­i­nance as the Spa­niard put the vis­i­tors-un­changed for the fifth con­sec­u­tive league game-ahead four min­utes be­fore the end of a tight first half.

It stemmed from a dis­puted cor­ner, as Mid­dles­brough claimed debu­tant full-back Fabio da Silva had not touched the ball as it ran out of play.

Eden Haz­ard’s in-swing­ing set-piece looped into the air as Calum Cham­bers and Gas­ton Ramirez chal­lenged Mar­cos Alonso at the near post.

De­spite the hosts hav­ing num­bers back to de­fend Costa re­acted first to vol­ley the loose ball home from in­side the six-yard box, tak­ing him to dou­ble fig­ures for the cam­paign. Mid­dles­brough goal­keeper Vic­tor Valdes was par­tially at fault for fail­ing to come off his line.


His in­de­ci­sion was in stark con­trast to ear­lier in the half when the for­mer Barcelona man pro­duced a stun­ning fin­ger­tip save to de­flect a first-time Pe­dro shot over the bar.

It was one of few clear-cut chances be­fore the in­ter­val as Boro were largely suc­cess­ful in their at­tempts to negate the threat of Conte’s side by pack­ing mid­field and look­ing to counter-at­tack.

The out-of-touch Al­varo Ne­gredo wasted their two main open­ings, first fir­ing across the face of goal and then head­ing wide from An­to­nio Bar­ra­gan’s deep cross.

Ramirez shot over early in the sec­ond half af­ter Ne­gredo’s dummy cre­ated space on the edge of the box for the Uruguay in­ter­na­tional, but it was a rare threat from the hosts. Boro have forced draws against Arse­nal and Pep Guardi­ola’s City this sea­son, but af­ter fall­ing be­hind they rarely looked like trou­bling Chelsea’s three­man back line.

Hav­ing not con­ceded a league goal since Septem­ber 24 — al­most 10 hours of foot­ball-Chelsea are on their best de­fen­sive run for six years.

Goal­keeper Thibaut Cour­tois pre­served their lat­est shut-out late on when he par­ried a pow­er­ful Ne­gredo vol­ley as the hosts be­lat­edly pushed bod­ies for­ward. The ma­jor­ity of chances ar­rived at the other end. Alonso al­most dou­bled the vis­i­tors’ ad­van­tage within sec­onds of kick-off in the sec­ond half, the Spa­niard forc­ing a fine low save from Valdes af­ter Haz­ard helped on Vic­tor Moses’s cross. The sec­ond goal failed to ma­te­ri­alise, but Chelsea closed out their lat­est vic­tory with rel­a­tive ease to se­cure an­other valu­able three points to­wards their grow­ing ti­tle chal­lenge.


MID­DLES­BROUGH: Chelsea’s Bel­gian mid­fielder Eden Haz­ard (L) hur­dles a chal­lenge from Mid­dles­brough’s English de­fender Calum Cham­bers dur­ing the English Premier League foot­ball match be­tween Mid­dles­brough and Ch­eslea at River­side Sta­dium in Mid­dles­brough, north­east Eng­land yes­ter­day.

Mid­dles­brough 0 Chelsea 1

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