Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s stoppage-time header snatched three points for the Blues as for the second time this season Chelsea came from behind to beat Cardiff.
In truth Chelsea struggled to get going until late on, and it had looked as though we were heading for another away defeat after Victor Camarasa’s delicate finish early in the second half put the Bluebirds ahead.
The introduction of Eden Hazard and Loftus-Cheek off the bench injected new life into us and two headed goals in the closing stages did the damage. Cesar Azpilicueta’s first of the season drew us level with six to play, although Neil Warnock and his players were livid the offside flag had not been raised.
Then came Loftus-Cheek’s winner as the clock ticked past 90, a powerful header planted into the corner. It was a smash-and-grab, but after recent difficulties on the road a very welcome three points indeed, and hopefully a result that can invigorate our fight for a top-four place.
Maurizio Sarri said in his pre-match press conference that some of his players were tired after representing their countries, and before kick-off today explained his decision to put Hazard and the hitherto ever-present N’Golo Kante on the bench was with that in mind, as well as Wednesday’s fixture against Brighton.
So it was Willian and Pedro who flanked Gonzalo Higuain in attack, and Mateo Kovacic and Ross Barkley tasked with supporting Jorginho in midfield.
Cardiff were unchanged from their last match 22 days ago, a home victory over West Ham.
On a chilly afternoon in the Welsh capital, proceedings started slowly. It took until the 11th minute for the first effort of note, curled wide by Pedro from the edge of the box. Cardiff responded immediately, picking up the scraps from a long throw and working space for Josh Murphy. He cut in and bent a shot a whisker past the post.
Chelsea were struggling to find the requisite tempo or passing accuracy in the opposition half to trouble Cardiff’s deep defensive line. The home side’s physical approach is well known, but the pace and trickery of Josh Murphy and Junior Hoilett out wide was an occasional issue for us.
There was little goalmouth action of note in the first half. Willian went very close with a free-kick, and our best chance fell to Marcos Alonso, five minutes before the interval. Six yards out and stretching, he could only poke wide from a well-worked short corner.
Our start to the second half in our last outing at Everton had not been good, and it seemed we hadn’t learned from what went wrong at Goodison Park. Ninety seconds had elapsed when Cardiff took the lead. David Luiz partially cleared a long throw, and when Harry Arter crossed the ball back in Camarasa nonchalantly volleyed past Kepa from 12 yards out. It was a fine finish.
Sarri responded by bringing Hazard on for Pedro and the Belgian immediately injected some pace into our game. His first dribble was crudely ended by Arter who was booked. The resulting training-ground set-piece didn’t come off.
Down the other end we just about dealt with another couple of Aron Gunnarsson’s long throws, although not for the first time this afternoon Cardiff wanted a penalty after Morrison and Toni Rudiger came together.
Loftus-Cheek replaced Jorginho on 65 minutes and neither he nor Hazard could get a shot away after the England midfielder drove into the box.
With 15 minutes remaining a nifty touch from Willian gave him space for a shot inside the box, but from a tight angle he fizzed wide. Then Higuain had a strike deflected behind. It was his last involvement before Olivier Giroud replaced him.
With time running out Hazard and Alonso exchanged passes and the former’s cross was cleared by the omnipresent Morrison. From the resulting corner, Willian’s delivery was flicked on by Alonso and Azpilicueta nodded in. The offside flag was not raised and we were level. There were six minutes to go.
A long pass split our defence, and Rudiger and Cardiff sub Kenneth Zohore came together. After a lengthy delay the referee deemed it a foul and a yellow card offence. Again the home side were aghast.
They were exasperated further when we took the lead in the first minute of stoppage time. It was Willian again with the supply line, and there was Loftus-Cheek at the back post to power a header into the corner. He celebrated wildly in front of the travelling supporters. We had got out of jail, but again our tendency to score late goals had proven critical.
There was one more chance for us from a break, as Hazard set up Barkley who lashed over. Thankfully it did not prove a costly miss as Joe Bennett curled into Kepa's arms with a free-kick, and so we returned to London with all the points.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, David Luiz, Alonso; Barkley, Jorginho (Loftus-Cheek 64), Kovacic; Pedro (Hazard 53), Higuain (Giroud 77), Willian.
Unused subs Caballero, Christensen, Kante, Hudson-Odoi.
Scorers Azpilicueta 84, Loftus-Cheek 90+1
Booked Jorginho 26, Azpilicueta 61, Rudiger 87
Cardiff (4-2-3-1): Etheridge; Peltier, Morrison (c), Manga, Bennett; Gunnarsson, Arter (Ralls 80); Murphy (Mendez-Laing 90), Camarasa, Hoilett; Niasse (Zohore 85).
Unused subs Murphy, Bacuna, Harris, De Cordova-Reid.
Scorer Camarasa 47
Booked Arter 54, Gunnarson 86
Referee Craig Pawson