Chelsea ride their luck against Hull but stretch gap at top
Steve Bruce’s side rally from two down but late Remy goal gives league leaders the points
Loic Remy’s second half strike saw Chelsea extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to eight points. Photograph: Afp
They got there in the end but Chelsea were made to exert themselves to maintain their dominant position in the Premier League title race after Thibault Courtois’ blunder on the Humber.
It took a late winner from the substitute Loïc Rémy to finally defeat Hull City, whose prospects of taking points for their own relegation fight were aided by Courtois’s part in their 27th-minute equaliser.
Any result appeared possible after that but Chelsea finished the contest like champion teams do, by glossing over an indifferent performance and securing victory.
The start also highlighted their class.
Within 10 minutes Chelsea made a mockery of Hull’s relatively sound defence – at kick-off no team outside the top six had conceded fewer than their 37 goals and their recent shipping was a modest three in five – with a couple of imperious finishes.
The first, dispatched from 20 yards by Eden Hazard’s left boot, owed a lot to hesitancy from the hosts once Diego Costa used his physicality to cushion the ball into the Belgian’s path.
Allowed to proceed unopposed in a central position, Hazard gave Allan McGregor no chance with a shot that arrowed inside the Scottish goalkeeper’s left-hand post.
Equally clinicalMichael Dawson
Given that Hull had not successfully come back from two goals behind to claim a share of any match this season, the portents for anything but an away win were not favourable. Earlier, this season they did erase Manchester City’s 2-0 advantage here but eventually lost 4-2.
But there has been a greater resolve about the Yorkshire club since early February, a period coinciding with the arrival of Mike Phelan as Steve Bruce’s assistant and tactical scheming from the touchline between the pair midway through the opening period proved pivotal as, in 74 heady first-half seconds, Hull doubled their tally of goals against Chelsea to breathe new life both into the contest.
Having started with the 3-5-2 formation that had resulted in nine points being collected from their previous six matches, Hull sacrificed one of their central defenders, repositioned Dame N’Doye onto the left flank and pushed Gastón Ramírez between a four-man midfield and his fellow Uruguayan Abel Hernández up front.
Twice they had threatened to halve the deficit through N’Doye before the changes, either side of the quarter-hour mark.
Gary Cahill’s challenge on the cusp of the penalty area resulted in a cute free-kick being turned around the upright by Courtois, and from the subsequent dead-ball delivery N’Doye’s header proved too central.
Hull’s double strike – the fastest two goals by a side in the top flight this season – came courtesy of an increase in tempo.
Bursting pastAndrew RobertsonBranislav IvanovicAhmed Elmohamady
The noise levels around the KC Stadium had not diminished when Courtois’ clanger was punished for the equaliser.
Ivanovic appeared to have tidied up another Hull attack but Ramírez’s refusal to give up on a lost cause led Courtois to panic and a heavy touch by the goalkeeper was pounced upon by Hernández.
Earlier, between Chelsea’s opening two goals, Hull’s £10 million (€13.8 million) record signing had found himself one-on-one with Courtois only for his composure to desert him. It was one of a dozen efforts on goal by the home team before the interval.
There were fewer after half-time but after their Bradford debacle it took a triple save from Courtois to prevent Chelsea relinquishing a 2-0 dominance over a Yorkshire club for the second time in 2015 – Elmohamady, Jake Livermore and Ramírez all having chances beaten away in the 64th-minute.
Courtois’s act of redemption at one end was then trumped at the other by a Mourinho switch as Rémy converted Willian’s low centre within two minutes of coming on to provide Chelsea with a six-point buffer at the top heading into next week’s international break. Guardian Service