SHAFAQNA – THE only place to be – every other Saturday,’ reads a banner draped over the front wall of the Matthew Harding Stand upper tier at Stamford Bridge.
Such a sentiment from the locals is understandable, as Chelsea boast the Premier League’s only remaining 100 per cent winning record in front of their own fans and a maximum 24-point haul.
For Hull City, however, SW6 must be the last place they want to be on any given Saturday after yet another trip down the Fulham Road ended in disappointment.
Goals from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa mean the Tigers are still yet to win in 20 visits to the Bridge. Worse still, in the 17 of those meetings that have been in the league, City have scored a pitiful two goals and conceded 33.
It is a woeful record and one that, even allowing for a battling display from Steve Bruce’s men that meant Chelsea could never truly relax until the closing stages, rarely looked like being improved.
Instead, the contest went the way of so many previous encounters between the clubs in the capital as the Tigers slipped a place to 19th in the table ahead of what has now become a truly season-defining festive run of four games in 13 days.
Three of those are at the KC Stadium and with the solitary road trip also being to fellow strugglers Sunderland on Boxing Day, Bruce is well aware just how high the stakes are this Christmas.
He said: “We have played nine games away from home and seven at home. So, we need to go and win these couple of home games we have got coming up over Christmas.
“It is a vitally important period. It is four games in a matter of days and if we can win a couple of those then the season has a different complexion.
“We just need a break. It is 16 games since we started at QPR and it is fair to say that eight or nine times I have come in (afterwards) and said the same thing.
“Two or three times, we have been well beaten and then five or six times we have conceded late on. And now we have been down to 10 men four times.
“It has been one of those really frustrating seasons but you just have to keep going. We need to stay positive and relaxed because I’m sure we’ll be okay.
“Certainly, if they keep seeing their team play like that, I think they’ll see what I see. I’m convinced we will be okay.”
Considering how poor City’s record at Chelsea has been down the years, a solid start was needed by Bruce’s men.
Instead, sloppy marking meant they trailed inside seven minutes as a floated cross by Oscar found Hazard all on his own six yards from goal and the Belgian did the rest with a firm header past Allan McGregor.
Four minutes later, City’s afternoon took another turn for the worse when Michael Dawson hobbled out of the action after injuring his hamstring.
At that stage, Chelsea must have sensed an opportunity to bolster a goal difference that was already the best in the top flight.
Credit, therefore, must go to Hull for the manner in which they dug in and showed the kind of resilience that had been so conspicuous by its absence in last month’s woeful away defeats at Burnley and Manchester United.
With Bruce opting for a three-man back-line and Sone Aluko playing up front alongside Nikica Jelavic, City were able to apply pressure deep in home territory.
This hassling and hurrying of the Blues back-line meant Mourinho’s men were rarely able to settle and find the rhythm that had brought seven straight league wins at the Bridge this season.
Mistakes followed as a result, which in turn allowed City a few openings of their own. Jake Livermore shot wide from distance, as did Aluko whose trickery on the ball was reminiscent of how the former Rangers striker performed before a ruptured Achilles wrecked last season.
Curtis Davies also saw a shot blocked as the visitors continued to ask questions of the leaders before the first half ended with Petr Cech flapping at a Tom Huddlestone cross and needing to be rescued by John Terry.
City’s endeavour meant Bruce’s half-time team talk was positive and his side started the second half in a similar fashion as Livermore fired just wide.
Then, though, came the pivotal moment on the hour as Huddlestone was a fraction late in a 50-50 challenge with Filipe Luis.
That, in itself, would have been enough to bring a second yellow card of the match for the City midfielder and an early departure. Huddlestone’s problem, however, was that as he clattered into the Blues left-back he did so with his studs showing.
Referee Chris Foy had no hesitation in brandishing a straight red card and rightly so. Where the Tigers did have just complaint, though, was that a few minutes earlier Foy had been guilty of a truly awful decision when failing to penalise Gary Cahill for a blatant dive.
Had the England international received the warranted booking after tumbling between Huddlestone and David Meyler, he would have been off after earlier being cautioned for a bad foul on Aluko.
Of course, no-one can say with any confidence that Cahill’s dismissal would have changed the game.
But, as Bruce rightly pointed out afterwards, City would have been up against 10 men and had 35 minutes to make their numerical superiority pay.
As it was, Huddlestone’s dismissal meant damage limitation was the Tigers’ aim during the final half-hour. They managed it well, the Blues claiming just one more goal despite dominating possession.
A pass so cute by Branislav Ivanovic that it wrong-footed Andrew Robertson, Robbie Brady and David Meyler completely played Hazard in on 68 minutes and he then rolled a cross for Costa to complete a simple tap-in from close range.
A 15th defeat in 20 visits to Chelsea was therefore confirmed, leaving Bruce’s men badly needing a very happy Christmas to breathe life into the club’s relegation fight.
Source : http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/