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IT WAS a night when Chelsea’s billionaire boys club were guilty of playing some Hackney Marshes football.

And a night when a local lad called Hackney had Middlesbrough dreaming of Wembley.

Hayden Hackney star sparked wild scenes at the Riverside.

Mauricio Pochettino’s arm-and-a-leg side might still make it to the Carabao Cup final – unfortunately for Boro they are not going to scrap two-legged semi-finals in this competition until next season.

But while Chelsea dominated possession and showed flashes of expensive quality, they were wasteful in front of goal and worryingly fragile in defence.

Michael Carrick’s Championship side were worthy of their first-leg victory, courtesy of Hayden Hackney, their England Under-21 midfielder from nearby Redcar.

And Chelsea have some serious work to do in the return leg at Stamford Bridge in a fortnight if they are to overhaul Boro and reach their first final of the post-Abramovich era.

This is a competition which used to be considered small fry for Chelsea but for Pochettino, as well as for Todd Boehly and his chaotic Clearlake ownership crew, it would mean the world.

This is a talented but naive side, marooned in mid-table in the Premier League, which could well need a domestic cup to qualify for Europe next season.

There were simply too many players in Blues shirts who were off it against a Boro side who defended with stoicism and showed glimpses of genuine class – as their chairman Steve Gibson celebrated his 66th birthday in some style.

Hackney, who played wide-left here and has the hunched gate of Chris Waddle, is one to watch.

Isaiah Jones was too speedy for Levi Colwill, who had a shocking first half.

But Cole Palmer, starting as Chelsea’s makeshift centre-forward, was guilty of two glaring first-half misses as Pochettino’s men were left frustrated.

The Blues haven’t won a trophy since the 2021 Club World Cup – the sort of gap which was virtually unthinkable during the Abramovich years.

For Boro, it was a first major semi-final since the 2006 UEFA Cup, and a chance to relive the marquee nights that used to be regular here a generation ago.

Within the first minute, Colwill’s dodgy back-header let in Emmanuel Latte Lath but the Ivorian injured himself as he scuffed his shot at Djordje Petrovic and Axel Disasi slid in.

Both Latte Lath and Alex Bangura were forced off through injury in the opening 20 minutes but Carrick’s boys were holding their own.

Chelsea’s fans, recalling the 1997 FA Cup final between these two clubs, were singing for Roberto Di Matteo.

Who says they ‘ain’t got no history’? It’s the present that’s bothering them.

Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo, the most expensive midfield duo in the history of mankind, were hardly pulling up any trees against Championship opposition.

Noni Madueke forced a corner with a darting run and a saucy outside-of-the-boot centre was headed narrowly over by Colwill.

But Chelsea’s first clear sight of goal came from a dozy Boro error as skipper Jonny Howson’s pass fell straight to Palmer, who almost had too much time and space before he shot wide.

Boro seized on this let-off and twice within the next few minutes, Chelsea were caught pants-down.

First Matt Crooks fed Hackney, who dragged his shot wide.

But having had his sighter, the gifted local lad would not be found wanting twice.

This time Jones latched on to a long ball down the right, he out-paced and out-skilled Colwill – who had only just been booked for cynically fouling him.

When Jones centred low, Hackney evaded the attentions of Caicedo and slotted home from close range.

The Riverside went ballistic and Hackney, one of their own, roared into the throng.

Chelsea were looking meek and fragile every time Boro went forward.

Yet they still held an attacking threat, and Caicedo drilled a long-ranger just wide in first-half injury-time.

Then came another extraordinary miss from Palmer as Fernandez curled a shot which keeper Tom Glover should have saved comfortably but somehow spilled, only for Chelsea’s ‘false nine’ to shovel over from close range.

Palmer then cut inside and forced a decent save from Glover before the half-time whistle.

The pattern continued early in the second half – Chelsea creating and missing chances, yet looking vulnerable at the back.

Captain Conor Gallagher – three words which say much about Chelsea’s lack of experience – turned his man but shot wide from six yards.

Pochettino hauled off Fernandez and Madueke, sending on Armando Broja as an authentic centre-forward and his lightning winger Mykhailo Mudryk, aka Ukraine Bolt.

The Blues were bossing possession but a slip from Thiago Silva almost let in butcher’s son Josh Coburn.

Sterling shot wide across, then Broja did the same and the worse Chelsea’s finishing got, the more Boro believed.

They held firm, their supporters roaring them on with a fervour that reminded you of Gibson’s glory years.

Hayden Hackney grabbed the only goal of the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg.



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