Eden Hazard scored the game's only goal as West Ham United were edged out by Barclays Premier League leaders Chelsea at the Boleyn Ground
A first-half Eden Hazard header saw Chelsea claim the spoils at the Boleyn Ground on Wednesday evening, though West Ham United gave every bit as good as they got against the Barclays Premier League leaders.
In a game neither lacking in chances nor incident, Belgian Hazard stooped to nod home Ramires’ cross midway through the opening period. That it proved to be the game’s only goal owed plenty to two exceptional goalkeepers.
Diafra Sakho had several an opportunity to square matters after the break, as the hosts tried everything to claw back Jose Mourinho’s title favourites. At the other end, Ramires was denied both by the woodwork and Adrian, as Chelsea succeeded in preserving a five point lead over Manchester City at the Barclays Premier League summit.
A crunching Aaron Cresswell challenge on Diego Costa set the tone after 45 seconds. West Ham looked sharp. But there was an early reshuffle to contend with when Winston Reid pulled up inside ten minutes. James Collins got the call.
All the while, Chelsea were fizzing it around the Hammers’ 18-yard box. Oscar squared for Costa and the Spaniard stabbed it over the top. At the other end, Enner Valencia was hauled to the floor by John Terry. The Chelsea skipper earned a caution for his troubles and Valencia slammed the free-kick into the travelling fans behind the goal.
West Ham now looked the more likely. Stewart Downing picked up the pieces from his own corner and fed Kevin Nolan. The skipper cushioned it into the path of Kouyate, who drew a smart stop from Courtois at his near post.
With 20 gone, Kouyate again threatened in the opposition box. This time he sprayed it in the direction of Sakho, who tried and failed to divert it goalwards.
But Chelsea hit the front against the run of play, with the simplest of goals. Cesc Fabregas rolled it out wide to Ramires, who duly plonked it straight onto the forehead of Hazard and, with the freedom of the Hammers’ six-yard box, he could hardly miss. West Ham arms went up for a flag that never came. It looked close.
Costa might have doubled the visitors’ lead as he bore down on goal. But he dwelt on it. Cue Carl Jenkinson, who made up several yards to plant a boot on it and deny the Spaniard a strike on Adrian’s goal.
The Arsenal loanee was instrumental at the other end too. His inviting centre picked out Sakho, but his downward header from seven yards was straight at Courtois, who parried.
West Ham began the second period with intensity and intent. It so nearly brought an equaliser. Kouyate’s snapshot fell at the feet of Sakho and his drive cannoned into the stanchion behind the goal.
Then Downing’s centre caused havoc, as it bobbled around the Chelsea box. Sakho swiped at it and Courtois needed every inch of his massive frame to palm it away and out of Nolan’s reach.
Seconds later and there were Chelsea heads in hands. Ramires broke away down the right, cut inside Collins and aimed the far post. And the far post he hit, but thankfully for the Hammers, it rolled straight back in to the grateful arms of Adrian.
Ramires was denied again after 58 minutes, but this by time by Adrian. Hazard’s deft centre was met with full force by the Brazilian and West Ham’s custodian had to be at his very best to keep it out with his feet.
By now a compelling see-saw affair, West Ham burst straight back up the other end. Downing’s run was direct and Sakho kept up with him. The Senegal man would then collect on the left edge of the box, before watching Courtois plunge to his left to keep out his latest effort.
Still the hosts pressed and they came closer still. Valencia’s angled drive was too hot to hold and though Sakho looked favourite to score the rebound, a combination of defender and ‘keeper blocked it behind.
As the clock ticked down, Sakho headed Downing’s inviting centre wastefully over the top, while late substitute Nene saw his goalbound effort charged down. Willian almost settled it deep into six minutes of added time, but Cresswell was there on the line to prevent further damage.
West Ham United: Adrian, Jenkinson, Tomkins, Reid (Collins 8), Cresswell, Noble, Kouyate (Nene 87), Nolan (c), Downing, Valencia, Sakho
Subs: Jaaskelainen, Demel, O'Brien, Song, Jarvis
Booked: Kouyate, Collins, Nolan
Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta, Ramires, Zouma, Fabregas, Oscar (Willian 74), Hazard (Remy 90+5), Costa (Drogba 90+3)
Subs: Cech, Luis, Cuadrado, Loftus-Cheek
Goal: Hazard 22
Booked: Terry, Hazard, Fabregas
Referee: Andre Marriner