Premier League leaders Chelsea battled to a 2-1 win against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday night.
A sly free-kick from Willian wrong-footed Stoke custodian Lee Grant to give Chelsea the early lead.
Despite having a goal disallowed, the Potters fought back to go into the break level, courtesy of a Jonathan Walters penalty.
Blues defender Marcos Alonso saw his own free-kick ricochet back of the crossbar in the 66th minute, but some quick thinking from Gary Cahill at the death saw Antonio Conte’s side leave Stoke with all three points.
Phil Bardlsey was sent off in the dying embers of the match for a second bookable foul.
Grant caught out for the opener
Chelsea’s opening goal was one to forget for goalkeeper Grant. Unfortunately for the veteran shot-stopper, it came in his 500th career game across all competitions.
Willian’s free-kick was cheeky, but it only managed to come off due to a lack of awareness and poor positioning from Grant. The Stoke defensive line had their minds set on a potential cross and, as a result, conceded.
A little more open-mindedness from Grant would have saved a goal. If he had been slightly tighter to his near post, even momentarily, Willian would not have seen an opportunity to embarrass the goalkeeper and his defenders.
A soft penalty equaliser
Cahill was hard done by.
The penalty decision was harsh on the England international, given that Walters took to the ground very easily after an apparent push. The penalty itself was taken emphatically.
There was slight confusion between Cahill, Walters and Thibaut Courtois, with the Stoke player going down. In this mess, it was understandable for the referee to give a penalty, but Cahill will feel let down by the officials.
Chelsea march on to another win – and an unbeatable lead
In the history of the Premier League, no team has given up a 13 point lead at the top of the table and with their win at the Britannia, Conte’s side has reached that mark.
Chelsea’s away form has been tremendous this season, with their home record not far behind. This latest win should, at last, put to bed any ideas of them slipping up. The real race is for top four.
A tale of two terriers
Much has been said and written about midfield battlers N’Golo Kanté and Joe Allen this season and the pair were among the better performers for their respective sides tonight.
All throughout the match, Allen and Kanté were active – smothering and sparking all over the pitch. At times, they even came into contact with each other.
It was a marvelous showing of dogged midfield play – an area of football that is often maligned.
Stoke’s physicality too much for the Blues
Away games in Staffordshire have a certain reputation among Premier League sides.
Under Tony Pulis, Stoke became the paragon of physical football and towering defenders were their hallmarks.
Against Chelsea, the Potters team showed that this had not been purged from their ethos. They took the fight to the league leaders – refusing to be bullied from the first minute to the last.
At times, it proved too much for the Blues to handle and they were often hit on the counter-attack by a powerful opposition midfield. Chelsea won, but they were forced to fight for it.