Chelsea's composure suffered a nasty shock just minutes before kick-off when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was withdrawn from the line- up, but the 18-year-old Carlton Cole steadied the nerves by scoring on his full debut as the cup finalists dismissed Middlesbrough with contemptuous ease.
Apart from Cole, who has scored 37 goals in junior teams this season, Chelsea's only other change was a rest for Eidur Gudjohnsen. Middlesbrough's injury crisis was easing, allowing them to make five changes to the side which lost at Ipswich in midweek. Alen Boksic, though, was missing as was England's Gareth Southgate, nursing a broken nose.
Kick-off was delayed for 10 minutes by a fire alarm, but the game quickly sparked into life as both sets of dawdling defenders looked likely to be mugged at any moment. Four minutes had gone when Robbie Stockdale's tackle on Cole broke to Boudewijn Zenden in the box. One- on-one against Mark Schwarzer, the Dutchman hit the keeper.
In reply, Franck Queudrue played a perfect ball into Jonathan Greening. Ahead of Marcel Desailly, he lifted the ball over the advancing Carlo Cudicini into the side netting. When Middlesbrough had two "goals" ruled out within two minutes, home passions were ignited although Dean Windass poured water on Boro's better moves by regularly being caught offside.
Calmly, possibly lazily but certainly prettily, Chelsea played their football with Jesper Gronkjaer a willing outlet. In the 38th minute he won a free-kick which Emmanuel Petit swung over and Cole, already very tall, rose high to head into the top corner. …