Willian and Gary Cahill were goalscorers against Stoke for the second game this season as the Blues kept our winning run going on a grey day in the Potteries.
A free-kick by the Brazilian grabbed an early lead but a Jonathan Walters penalty levelled the scores before half-time. In what was a typically physical encounter against Mark Hughes’ team, it was Chelsea who were on top after the interval, including hitting woodwork, although we left it late to claim our just rewards. There were 87 minutes on the clock when the captain hooked the ball in to spark joyous celebrations on the pitch, behind that goal and in the visitors’ dug-out.
Adding to the sense of achievement was the fact we played without the in-form Eden Hazard who was not risked due to a small injury. In his press conference yesterday Antonio Conte spoke of two players who needed assessing and John Terry was the other not to make the trip.
The last time Hazard had missed a Premier League game was away against another red-stripped team, and like at Sunderland in December, our side without the Belgian delivered. We are 13 points clear ahead of title rivals playing on Sunday.
There was little to choose between the two sides in the opening 10 minutes. David Luiz was prominent in stifling Stoke attacks and the home crowd were on Diego Costa’s back early. Referee Anthony Taylor had a word with our centre-forward and Stoke defender Bruno Martins Indi after a coming together in the home penalty area.
On our next attack, Marcos Alonso was fouled clumsily by Marko Arnautovic who was back in the side after illness, with the free-kick positioned wide out on the left. It looked for all the world to be primed for one of those Willian curlers to the far post but he had spotted a gap and went low to the front stick.
Wise choice! Lee Grant was caught suitably unawares and although the January signing from Derby got hands to the ball, he only paddled it down into the ground on its way in. How Willian likes a goal against the Potters! After two on New Year's Eve, he had given us the lead after just 13 minutes.
Diego Costa was booked on 17 following another altercation with Martins Indi so had to tread carefully for the greater part of the game. Joe Allen had been cautioned for fouling Alonso shorty before.
Moses, on his 50th Premier League appearance for Chelsea and from a lay-back from Willian, could have had a goal against the club where he spent 2014/15 but his shot was blocked. The Blues were finding pockets of space deep in the home side’s half.
Just before the half-hour Grant in the Stoke goal did acquit himself well, after Chelsea had played a Willian free-kick across the face of the box for a while before Pedro’s surprise ball over the top for Alonso. The keeper made a sharp save.
Arnautovic showed his better work at the Chelsea end of the pitch when he drilled a centre in but it was sent out for a corner by N’Golo Kante. It was not long before Stoke did have the ball in the net for the first time and most in the stadium thought Martins Indi had scored, but then the ref consulted – and after a pause ruled the goal out. A Saido Berahino push on Cesar Azpilicueta was the reason. Our Spanish defender was playing Premier League game 150.
The game was suddenly a tale of two pushes – as Cahill was penalised for one on Walters in the area with 37 minutes played. The same Stoke player took the spot-kick having previously blasted one over the bar against the Blues, but this time he kept it down sufficiently to level the scores at 1-1.
Most of the rest of the half centred on Diego Costa and the Stoke defence. Shawcross was next to foul our no.19 and then tangled with him as they fell, then Phil Bardsley went in high and painfully on Diego’s leg and was booked. From a quick free-kick forward, Pedro almost caught the Potters napping but fired over.
So the sides went in level at the interval. The game becoming scrappy as it went on had suited the home side more than it had us.
Some exceptional defending by David Luiz dealt with danger early in the second half after Ramadan had found a way past Azpilicueta. Pedro then did similar to Shawcross and won a corner. Alonso then won another from a fine Kante pass. This was better from Chelsea.
Diego Costa continued to test the Stoke centre-backs to the full, with Martins Indi looking the more likely to yield than Shawcross.
On 64 minutes Chelsea worked the ball quickly out of a tight space and Willian sprang Pedro forward, only for Erik Pieters to chop him down at the cost of a yellow card. David Luiz and Willian lined up behind the free-kick but it was the less-expected Alonso who struck it sweetly. The ball cannoned back off the bar.
For the final 20 minutes, Fabregas was introduced. Moses made way with Chelsea now playing 4-2-3-1.
Pedro had a fierce shot saved after Fabregas and Willian combined and Diego Costa looped a header well over. Stoke were increasingly giving away free-kicks in their half but then they asked questions of Chelsea with two corners won and a sliced shot by Ramadan as time ticked on. This game was still in the balance.
There were under five minutes left when substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek forced a corner and from it the winning goal was grabbed. Fabregas delivered the ball deep and David Luiz headed for goal. Pieters' attempted clearance was poor and Cahill was there – with the presence of mind and control to sweep the ball high into the net.
What scenes! Including Conte swinging on the dug-out roof in celebration. For Cahill, it was complete redemption for the penalty.
There was only one team who were going to score again after that, and we came close on more than one occasion. There was also time for one more player booked for a foul on Diego Costa and a very late red card for Bardsley after his second bookable offence of the game.
The Blues go marching on!
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses (Fabregas 70), Kante, Matic (Loftus-Cheek 82), Alonso; Willian (Zouma 88), Diego Costa, Pedro.
Unused subs Begovic, Ake, Chalobah, Batshuayi.
Scorers Willian 13, Cahill 87
Booked Diego Costa 17, Fabregas 90+1
Stoke (4-4-2): Grant; Bardsley, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters; Ramadan (Crouch 90+2), Cameron, Allen, Arnautovic; Walters, Berahino (Diouf 61).
Unused subs Given, Muniesa, Whelan, Afellay, Adam.
Sent off Bardsley 90+3
Booked Bardsley 40, Pieters 65, Martins Indi 65, Cameron 90
Referee Anthony Taylor