Chelsea Splutter on Closer to Glory

Published: 23rd March 2015 09:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd March 2015 09:51 AM   |  A+A-

It was scruffy, unconvincing and fortuitous, but if Chelsea emerge as champions in May the victory earned by Loic Remy's goal at the KC Stadium might just prove the one which propelled Jose Mourinho's team down the home straight.
Six points clear with a game in hand, Chelsea will be entering Devon Loch territory if they allow Manchester City or Arsenal to reel them in between now and May 24.
But for Remy's winner, a close-range strike from Willian's cross which squirmed through Allan McGregor, Hull City may have landed a wounding blow to Chelsea's title hopes having fought back from 2-0 down to haul themselves level.
Yet Remy's contribution, two minutes after replacing the injured Diego Costa, secured a crucial three points which leaves the rest of the teams running out of time to play catch up.
Chelsea's recent slump, which included the Champions League elimination at the hands of Paris St?Germain, had seen Mourinho's team win just five of their past 12 games in all competitions.
Despite Mourinho's bullish insistence that his team would respond to their critics by winning the title, actions speak louder than words and it was down to his players to justify the manager's confidence.
Within nine minutes of this game, however, it appeared as though Mourinho's 'us against the world' battle-cry was having its desired effect. Chelsea did not so much as race out of the traps as obliterate them, with Eden Hazard and Costa scoring twice before 10 minutes had elapsed to leave Hull on the ropes.
Hazard gave Chelsea the lead with a stunning goal from the edge of the penalty area after being released by Costa. The Belgian midfielder received the ball, and left McGregor helpless with his crisp strike.
Hull could have equalised in the fifth minute, when Abel Hernandez was put through on goal by Dame N'Doye's header from David Meyler's forward pass.
Hernandez bore down on Thibaut Courtois, who must have appeared an imposing sight in his bright orange goalkeeper kit, but the Hull forward panicked and shot straight at the -Belgian, who blocked the strike with his chest.
Four minutes later, Costa highlighted the difference between a pounds 10?million forward and one who cost pounds 30?million by proving much more clinical to finish off Cesc Fabregas's throughball. Costa pulled to the left flank and attacked the back-tracking Michael Dawson before using the defender as a screen around which he curled a right-foot strike beyond McGregor and into the far corner.
Two-nil up after nine minutes, it was surely game over for Hull, with the only question as to how many Chelsea would score.
However, this has been a remarkable Premier League season, with Burnley taking four points off City and Leicester putting five past United, so it would have been foolish to serve Hull with the Last Rites with more than 80 minutes left to play.
Steve Bruce, the Hull manager, abandoned his 3-5-2 starting formation and reverted to a traditional 4?4?2. The switch energised his team, who tore at Chelsea as though they had nothing further to lose. And -fortune favoured the brave, with the home side scoring twice within 74 seconds to haul themselves level.
The fightback began in the 26th minute when poor Chelsea defending saw Andy Robertson waltz between Branislav Ivanovic and Willian on the near touchline before crossing into the six-yard box, where Ahmed -Elmohamady arrived at the far post to score.
Chelsea had been undone, but worse was to come seconds later, to the extent that the KC may have been shorthand for the Keystone Cops manner of their defending.
Courtois had time to clear Ivanovic's back-pass, but the goalkeeper recklessly took a touch to take the ball away from the on-rushing Gaston Ramirez, only to hit it too hard and drive it into the path of Hernandez, who buried the loose ball to make it 2-2. Mourinho was caught on camera, slumped in his dug-out, while Bruce danced in celebration before remembering there was still over an hour to play. And it was a tense and, at times, fractious hour, with Costa usually at the centre of every flashpoint.
The Spain forward reacted with a verbal rant towards the assistant -referee when challenged heavily by Alex Bruce before allowing himself to become embroiled in a heated -shoving match with Jake Livermore.
Costa's flaw is that he allows vastly inferior players to needle him and it is one that opponents will not tire of targeting.
But Costa's petulance exposed Chelsea's frayed nerves and their increasing anxiety, which increased with every Hull foray forward.
The home side would have gone ahead on 64 minutes but for an incredible triple save from Courtois, with the villain now becoming a hero by denying Elmohamady, Livermore and Ramirez within the space of ten seconds. Courtois saved Chelsea's skin and Remy did the business at the other end.
This was a big victory.


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