Chelsea 2-1 Crystal Palace: Blues hold on despite late Eagles comeback
By Ron Walker
Last Updated: 11/03/18 7:17am
Chelsea picked up a valuable 2-1 win over Crystal Palace as a deflected Willian strike and a calamitous Martin Kelly own-goal gave the Blues only a second league victory in six.
They could have been out of sight by the break had Olivier Giroud added to their two first-half goals (25, 32), but he was denied by a goal-line clearance by James Tomkins and later struck a post after the interval.
Palace improved immeasurably thanks to the half-time return of Wilfried Zaha from a long-term injury and saw Alexander Sorloth hammer a shot against the woodwork, before his seemingly legitimate late goal was chalked off for a foul in the build-up that looked extremely soft.
Chelsea: Courtois (6), Christensen (6), Cahill (6), Azpilicueta (7), Zappacosta (7), Kante (7), Fabregas (7), Alonso (7), Willian (8), Giroud (6), Hazard (7).
Subs: Morata (6), Pedro (n/a), Bakayoko (n/a).
Crystal Palace Hennessey (6), Wan-Bissaka (6), Tomkins (7), Kelly (5), van Aanholt (6), Townsend (6), Milivojevic (5), McArthur (6), Schlupp (5), Benteke (6), Sorloth (6).
Subs: Zaha (7), Reidewald (6), Lee Chung-yong (n/a).
Man of the match: Willian.
The Eagles did pull one back in the final minute when Patrick van Aanholt slotted beyond Thibaut Courtois from close range, but Chelsea hung on to move back within two points of fourth-placed Tottenham.
The hosts had lost four of their previous five league games but immediately effused the kind of confidence of their title-winning side of last season. They were lacking a final ball to really test Wayne Hennessey, before a stroke of luck put them ahead as Willian cut inside and saw his drilled shot strike Kelly and go in off the post.
It was two seven minutes later when a flowing move ended with Willian feeding Zappacosta, and despite Kelly's valiant efforts, he could only clear the ball against Hennessey, and in turn himself, before it trickled over the line.
Antonio Conte opted for a strong side despite Chelsea's upcoming Champions League interests, but notably returned Olivier Giroud to the side in place of Pedro.
Crystal Palace were unchanged from Monday night's late collapse against Manchester United, but were buoyed by the return of Mamadou Sakho and Wilfried Zaha to the bench.
The onslaught continued as the superb Tomkins denied Giroud what appeared a certain goal with a sliding block on the line, but Palace looked a different side once Zaha was brought on at the break.
They struck the woodwork within two minutes when Chelsea gifted Sorloth the ball and the Norweigan beat Courtois, but not the post, from an inviting angle, before Giroud hit the frame of the goal with an even easier opportunity from eight yards.
Palace thought they had given themselves a lifeline when Sorloth fired home from a free-kick, but referee Anthony Taylor harshly punished a high foot in the Chelsea box from Jairo Riedewald on Gary Cahill when contact looked to be minimal at best.
They did get a goal back in the final minute of normal time as Van Aanholt swept home from close range, but could not find an equaliser to take them level on points with 17th-placed Southampton.
Man of the match - Willian
Chelsea's in-form forward was at it again, registering more shots on target (4) than any other player on the pitch and getting a goal to show for it too, albeit deflected.
He really came into his own after half-time, putting what should have been a third on a plate for Giroud and keeping the Palace defence chasing shadows at times.
The Brazilian has now scored five times in his last five games for Chelsea, having found the net only once in nine previous matches.
Chelsea will jump on the plane to Spain for the second leg of their finely balanced Champions League last-16 tie with Barcelona, before travelling to Leicester City next Sunday.
In the meantime, Palace face a crunch clash at relegation rivals Huddersfield Town on Saturday, and then host Liverpool a fortnight later.