WHEN it comes to football, rival fans never really need an excuse to root for an underdog against one of the big boys.

But Chelsea will travel to Teesside today with just about everyone outside SW6 wanting to see them become the latest Goliath to be felled by Middlesbrough’s David.

Chelsea face Middlesbrough in the FA Cup this evening


Chelsea face Middlesbrough in the FA Cup this eveningCredit: GETTY
The European champions are heading into the game off the back of a win against Lille


The European champions are heading into the game off the back of a win against LilleCredit: REUTERS

The ostracising of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, banned from being a director because of his links with Vladimir Putin’s war machine, would have been enough in itself to make Boro the nation’s preferred choice.

Yet the events of the past few days, with Chelsea asking the FA to prevent home fans from coming to the game, has accentuated that attitude – making it even more likely that the Stamford  Bridge outfit will encounter genuine hostility.

Not that Boro need any more of a carrot than a possible FA Cup semi-final place.

There was glee when first Manchester United and then Spurs were felled by Chris Wilder’s team.

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That, though, will be nothing in comparison to the nationwide reaction if Thomas Tuchel’s team also go tumbling.

It is not Tuchel’s fault. Indeed, amid a situation that would have been beyond many, the German has held things together with a calm, reasoned and sensible approach that few could have matched.

Tuchel even opted to criticise his own paymasters for what was seen by the vast majority as a complete mis-read of the situation when Chelsea requested the last eight clash be behind closed doors because Blues fans have been prevented from buying tickets.

In reality, Chelsea were trying to open up the Government’s eyes to the unfairness of the situation when the sanctions against Roman Abramovich have led to Blues supporters becoming the victims.


Chelsea never expected the FA to acquiesce to the request – which was withdrawn within a few hours – but did feel they needed to make a point.

Yet it came across as misguided and maladroit, rather than as it was intended, although Boro chairman Steve Gibson’s incendiary and personal assault on some members of the Blues hierarchy was unnecessary.

Nevertheless, it has added to that latent store of anti-Chelsea sentiment, and also reminded older Boro fans of their remarkable 3-0 win over Jose Mourinho’s seemingly unstoppable champions at the Riverside in 2006.

Chelsea remain favourites, and rightly so.

After all, they are the current world and European champions, comfortably third in the Prem and into the last eight of the Champions League, with a squad worth getting on for £1bn in the open market.

Boro’s annual wage-bill might, just, pay for Romelu Lukaku to spend the next six months not getting a game for Tuchel’s team.

But against both United and Tottenham they showed real courage and commitment, riding their luck at times but also demonstrating a desire to take advantage of their good fortunes.

Completing a hat-trick of Big Six victims really would be the biggest of the lot.

The Riverside, though, has waited a long time for a night like this, and a chance like this.

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