Win over Ea­gles an­chors Chelsea

Blues grab lead in dy­ing mo­ments of lack­lus­tre first half to so­lid­ify their top po­si­tion in Pre­mier League

CityPress - - Sport -

An­to­nio Conte’s Chelsea con­sol­i­dated their po­si­tion at the sum­mit of the Pre­mier League standings as Diego Costa’s 13th goal of the cam­paign se­cured a 1-0 vic­tory over Crys­tal Palace at Sel­hurst Park yes­ter­day.

The en­counter started at a fairly cau­tious pace, with nei­ther side will­ing to com­mit too many men in at­tack in the open­ing ex­changes.

In fact, there was very lit­tle in the way of goal­mouth ac­tion in a low-key open­ing half-hour, with both goal­keep­ers be­com­ing noth­ing more than spec­ta­tors for large pas­sages of play.

The first chance of note ar­rived on 18 min­utes, when Joel Ward brought down Eden Hazard on the edge of the Palace box. Brazil­ian cen­tre-back David Luiz stepped up to take the re­sult­ing free kick, but saw his driven ef­fort de­flected be­hind for a cor­ner.

The Ea­gles hit back with a chance of their own just two min­utes later, as Ja­son Pun­cheon fired wide of the left-hand post af­ter be­ing teed up by Martin Kelly.

Hav­ing mirac­u­lously avoided a book­ing for his last 11 ap­pear­ances, Costa even­tu­ally picked up his fifth of the cam­paign in the 22nd minute, fol­low­ing a clumsy chal­lenge on Joe Led­ley.

As such, the Spain in­ter­na­tional will miss the clash with Bournemouth on Box­ing Day.

There was very lit­tle else to speak of as the first half wore on, with Crys­tal Palace do­ing well to keep the shack­les on Costa and com­pany.

How­ever, as a lack­lus­tre first half drew to a close, the Blues grabbed the lead with the game’s first shot on tar­get.

César Azpilicueta sent in a hang­ing cross from deep, and Costa rose mag­nif­i­cently above his marker be­fore send­ing a loop­ing header into the bot­tom right cor­ner.

Thank­fully, there was a marked im­prove­ment from both teams af­ter the half-time in­ter­val, with Palace in par­tic­u­lar forced to adopt a more at­tack­ing ap­proach as they went in search of the equaliser.

The hosts very nearly got the break­through they were look­ing for af­ter just two min­utes of play, but Thibaut Cour­tois was alert to the danger, keep­ing out Yo­han Cabaye’s goal-bound ef­fort.

Chelsea posted a re­sponse just three min­utes later, but it came to noth­ing as Palace keeper Wayne Hen­nessey did well to snap up N’Golo Kanté’s sting­ing shot from out­side the area.

Kanté would go on to col­lect his yel­low card of the cam­paign, though, be­fore ef­forts from Mar­cos Alonso and sub­sti­tute Cesc Fàbre­gas failed to find the back of the net.

The Blues con­tin­ued to pile on the pres­sure, as ef­forts from Kanté and Alonso again tested Hen­nessey, who was sin­gle-hand­edly keep­ing his side in the con­test.

How­ever, the Ea­gles were lucky not to con­cede a sec­ond goal in the 85th minute, when the ma­raud­ing Alonso struck the cross­bar with a dip­ping free kick from the edge of the box.

Chelsea were not made to rue that missed op­por­tu­nity, though, as they saw out the re­main­ing min­utes with rel­a­tive ease, stretch­ing their win­ning run to 11 games and con­sign­ing Palace to an eighth de­feat in 11 Pre­mier League fix­tures.

– TEAMtalk Me­dia

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

IN­TENSE N’Golo Kanté of Chelsea (left) tries to dis­pos­sess Damien De­laney of Crys­tal Palace dur­ing their Pre­mier League match at Sel­hurst Park yes­ter­day

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