Chelsea were far from the fluent best as they laboured to a 2-0 home win against 10-man Hull City and maintained their three point advantage over the rest of the Premier League, in a game marred by diving controversy and a particularly ugly Tigers’ red card.
There was a raft of changes made from the Champions’ League dead rubber against Sporting in midweek. Branislav Ivanovic returned at right back, and captain John Terry also came in with Kurt Zouma making way. Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian were the chosen attacking trio to play behind Diego Costa, as Cesc Fabregas was suspended, and Andre Schurrle and Mohamed Salah were dropped.
Petr Cech made his first start of the season as Thibaut Courtois was injured, while John Obi Mikel retained his place in the starting line-up, owing to Fabregas’ suspension.
After bouncing back from their shock loss at Newcastle last weekend with a fine win over Sporting midweek, the challenge for Chelsea was to keep the momentum going and proving the Newcastle result was a mere blip in an otherwise fantastic season thus far.
After starting promisingly with Ivanovic in particular finding the left hand side of Hull’s 5-man defence very profitable, The Blues found themselves ahead after only six minutes, easing any jitters the home support may have had over a coupon-busting result.
Mikel passed to Matic who played a delightful ball out to Oscar, who played an equally sublime cross into the area to find the head of Eden Hazard waiting to nod home for his sixth goal this campaign. A player more renowned for his trickery on the turf rather than in the air, this was only his second headed goal in his professional career.
Around the 20 minute mark saw Hull find their best chance in the game as former Rangers striker Sone Aluko found space in the area but could contrive to blaze over the bar. Barring this brief lapse, it would turn out to be another trademark assured display from the Blues rearguard.
On the half hour mark, Willian found himself in the referee’s book for simulation as he bore down on the Hull area and went to ground softly, and not long after Gary Cahill was in the book for a collision with Aluko.
It was half of tight margins and largely uneventful play, but playing against a Hull side woefully out of form and lacking attacking verve, there were few worries of Hull coming back into the game.
Not long after the restart, yet another booking was shown for simulation, as Diego Costa was this time the man to have his name taken. While few could complain about Willian’s booking, Diego Costa’s looked a little more controversial, as no angle could prove conclusively there was no contact between our striker and Hull defender Curtis Davies. After being booked earlier for a poor challenge, Gary Cahill could have easily seen a second yellow for a dive himself, after going to ground fairly easily under minimal pressure.
While the Diego Costa decision proved controversial, there was not a person inside the stadium – home or away – that could argue with the red card Chris Foy produced moments later. Tom Huddlestone went flying into Felipe Luis at knee height with an abhorrent challenge on the Brazilian left back and found himself taking an early bath. Thankfully no seriously had occurred and Luis was fine to continue.
With one more man than their opposition, Chelsea began to turn the screw in search of a game-killing second. It took eight minutes after the sending off for them to find it. The ever-impressive Hazard soon turned provider with a perfectly weighted pass through to Costa after some fine interplay with Ivanovic, and the striker did what he’s done 11 times previously this season and found the back of the net with ease.
The two goal cushion, combined with a one man advantage and late substitutions saw the game completely fizzle out without much of note occurring. A half-chance fell to sub Didier Drogba in the only worthwhile action of the final stages.
The win sees Chelsea hold a three point advantage at the summit of the Premier League, as rivals Manchester City won 1-0 away to Leicester to keep pace. Hull’s loss, combined with Burnley’s surprising win over high-flying Southampton, sees Steve Bruce’s men slip into the bottom three.
Chelsea’s next game in a busy festive period comes in three days time, when they travel to Championship promotion contenders Derby County in the Capital One Cup quarter final on Tuesday.