Chelsea have taken another big step towards the Premier League title by moving 13 points clear at the top of the table, courtesy of a 2-1 win over Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.
Willian’s opener had been cancelled out by a Jonathan Walters penalty in the first half, but Gary Cahill’s late winner put his side within seven wins of being crowned champions of England against a Stoke side who finished the match with 10 men.
Stoke did not let Chelsea have anything easily in the first half, but it took a moment of individual inspiration, coupled with a goalkeeping error, to put the league leaders in front after just 13 minutes when Willian caught Lee Grant out with a cheeky free kick for his first goal since scoring a brace against the same opponents on New Year’s Eve.
The Stoke keeper was expecting a cross into the middle, but Willian instead curled a shot towards the near bottom corner from the left flank and Grant was unable to keep it out despite reaching the ball in time.
Stoke thought that they had levelled things up shortly afterwards when Martins Indi planted a header past Thibaut Courtois but, after a brief discussion with his linesman, referee Anthony Taylor disallowed the goal due to a push by Saido Berahino in the build-up.
If the Potters felt aggrieved with that decision then they were on the right end of another soft one moments later when Gary Cahill was adjudged to have pushed Walters over inside the area. Taylor pointed at the spot, and Walters stepped up himself to thump his finish down the middle.
The goal increased Chelsea’s wait for a Premier League clean sheet to six games, but the visitors almost provided an immediate response when Pedro fired over from a rebound after seeing his initial shot blocked.
Having raised hopes of an unlikely victory, it was instead Stoke who were on the wrong end of a late winner as Chelsea once again found a way to win when Cahill – who also scored in the reverse fixture between the two sides – swept a loose ball home with just three minutes remaining following a mistake by Erik Pieters.
Suddenly Stoke began to commit more bodies forward in an attempt to salvage a point from the game, but that allowed Chelsea to attack almost at will and there should have been a third late on when Costa fired a shot against the outside of the post before Ruben Loftus-Cheek was denied by Grant.
The hosts’ frustration boiled over in the closing stages when Phil Bardsley earned himself a red card in the fifth minute of stoppage time, picking up a second booking for a late and heavy challenge deep inside his own half.
Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City will look to close the gap back down to 10 when they take on Southampton and Liverpool respectively on Sunday.
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