Football Features

Chelsea fans call for end to Colwill experiment as Middlesbrough break nine-year streak

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:27, 9 January 2024

Chelsea fans were calling for the end of the Levi Colwill experiment at left-back after the Blues were beaten 1-0 by Middlesbrough.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men went into the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final as favourites both on the night and in the tie overall. It wasn’t hard to see why either. The Blues had won their past three games across all competitions, while Middlesbrough had lost three of their last four.

Chelsea were also unbeaten in 28 games against lower-league opposition in domestic cups, since losing 4-2 to Bradford in the fourth round of the FA Cup back in January 2015. And, Chelsea had won their past nine games against Middlesbrough, all without conceding a goal.

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Middlesbrough had a chance to end their long wait for a goal inside the opening minute, after Colwill’s attempted header to Thiago Silva was poor, but Emmanuel Latte Lath couldn’t get his shot away under pressure from Axel Disasi. The tackle was a rough one, and Disasi may have been a bit fortunate that VAR wasn’t in action, but there was no such luck for Latte Lath who had to come off injured as a result.

Boro had another injury to deal with and Chelsea started to take control, missing a very good chance with Cole Palmer sending a shot wide when one-on-one. And then the moment came. Michael Carrick had clearly done his research, with almost all of Middlesbrough’s attacks down Chelsea’s left, targeting Colwill.

Isaiah Jones, who was brilliant on Middlesbrough’s right, ran at Colwill and took the ball to the byline before cutting it back for Hayden Hackney. The midfielder’s run into the box was late, and timed perfectly, giving him the easy chance to just tap Middlesbrough ahead.

It was the first goal Middlesbrough had scored against Chelsea since Mark Viduka netted in a 2-1 win over the Blues in August 2006, ending a run of 846 minutes.

Chelsea had chances to equalise before half time, with Palmer missing an open goal from point blank range after a long shot had been spilled by Tom Glover. In total, Palmer had four chances but only hit the target twice, failing to really trouble the Middlesbrough goalkeeper on either occasion.

In the second half, Chelsea dominated possession of the ball but hit the target with just four of their 11 shots, again not really testing Glover who had looked shaky. Middlesbrough weren’t without their chances on the counter attack too, making 2-0 as likely a scoreline as 1-1. In the end, Middlesbrough held on, and take that 1-0 advantage to Stamford Bridge in two weeks’ time.

And while Middlesbrough were celebrating, the inquest began for Chelsea, with fans focusing on one particular aspect of their game – Colwill at left-back.

To make matters worse, “Sack Poch” was trending on social media towards the latter stages of the second half. But Pochettino appeared happy with the way he set his team up.

“I think today the approach was good,” he told Sky Sports.

“I think we made some mistakes in the first half. I think we gave them the chances to score and then they were so aggressive and really tough. They play in transition, in counter-attack and they block really deep, and it was difficult for us to break down this block.

“Then we had too many chances to score and we didn’t score, but that is football. It’s the first half of the tie because after 90 minutes we have another 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge, and we have to be positive.”

He added: “[I’m] disappointed, because I think if we assess the performance I think overall we were the better side. We created more chances, we had clear chances, but we didn’t score, we were not clinical.”