chelsea close gap on united

Steve Griffiths

Steve Griffiths

LONDON - Ricardo Carvalho kept Chelsea hot on Manchester United's heels as his first goal of the season clinched a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough yesterday.

Avram Grant's side closed the gap on Premier League leaders United to five points as they moved back above Arsenal into second place thanks to Carvalho's first half header at Stamford Bridge.

While United show no signs of stumbling as the title race enters the final furlong, Chelsea are at least ensuring Sir Alex Ferguson's champions have to go the distance to reclaim the crown.

The Blues still have to host United on April 26 but they nearly blew this chance to maintain the pressure as their early dominance gave way to a nervous finale in which Middlesbrough hit the woodwork three times.

Grant was without Frank Lampard as the England midfielder recovered from an illness, which had kept him out of the friendly against France in midweek.

But beating Arsenal last weekend has given Chelsea renewed belief they can catch United and that confidence was apparent at the start.

Didier Drogba set the tone as he tested Mark Schwarzer with a long-range effort that the Australian fumbled nervously.

Grant's side took the lead in the sixth minute. Wayne Bridge curled over a free-kick from wide on the left and Portugal defender Carvalho rose to power a perfectly-placed header into the far corner.

Chelsea threatened again when Drogba headed wide from Salomon Kalou's corner.

Kalou could have increased the lead after Michael Essien, bulldozing in from the right, picked him out with a low cross. Instead Kalou took one touch too many and allowed Luke Young to block his shot.

The killer touch eluded Drogba as well when Joe Cole's cross gave the striker a free header six yards out and he flicked his effort tamely over.

The subdued atmosphere suggested Chelsea's fans had less belief in their team's title chances than the players. -