BELEAGUERED Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez earned a little respite as his players booked themselves a mouth-watering FA Cup quarter-final trip to Manchester United.
Scorers: Ramires (51), Moses (73)
Referee: M Atkinson.
A day after the manager had moved to play down reports of a rift with skipper John Terry, he saw the England defender lead his side to a 2-0 victory at npower Championship Middlesbrough and a place in the last eight. The Blues took the lead when midfielder Ramires’ 51st-minute shot flicked Fernando Torres, who knew little or nothing about it, and flew past keeper Jason Steele before the impressive Victor Moses made sure with a close-range finish 15 minutes from time.
But the European champions were made to work hard for their victory as Boro largely contained them before the break to give the locals among a crowd of 27,856 at the Riverside Stadium hope of a shock result.
However, a much-changed Chelsea gradually eased through the gears to ensure their progression and keep the prospect of a trophy at the end of the season on the horizon.
Boro manager Tony Mowbray had admitted in advance his side simply could not afford to go toe-to-toe with Chelsea, but having safely negotiated a difficult opening period, they started to make an impression themselves.
Former Celtic striker Scott McDonald saw a powerful header fly wide of the far post with Petr Cech looking on anxiously. There were boos from the travelling fans at half-time, but the same 11 men emerged after the break as Benitez gave them further time to make their mark.
It took them only six minutes to do just that as they finally edged their way in front.
Oscar’s determined run to the by-line and floated cross caused problems for the home defence and when Yossi Benayoun fed the loose ball out to Ramires, he curled the ball into the top corner with the help of a slight deflection off the unwitting Torres.
The Spaniard appeared to claim the goal as his team-mates celebrated, but there would have been no question over the shot he unleashed after beating the offside trap had Steele not got his fingertips to it.
Boro needed to re-group as they set about the task of trying to drag themselves back into the game, but with the visitors having settled into a rhythm, they were seeing too little of the ball to do a great deal about it.
Substitute Eden Hazard might have extended his side’s lead with 18 minutes remaining with a deft shot which just evaded the top corner, but it was he who accepted Oscar’s pass seconds later to provide Moses with a tap-in. Cech had to be on his toes to keep out an 82nd-minute free-kick from former Hibs forward Merouane Zemmama but Chelsea made it to the final whistle with their clean sheet intact.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Bailey, McManus, Bikey (Hines 35), Friend, Carayol (Zemmama 74), Leadbitter, Rhys Williams, Haroun, Main (Miller 62), McDonald. Subs Not Used: Leutwiler, Emnes, Ledesma, Smallwood.
Chelsea: Cech, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Bertrand, Ake, Ramires, Moses (Luiz 76), Oscar (Marin 79), Benayoun (Hazard 58), Torres. Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Cole, Lampard, Ba.