Cahill’s Goal Moves Chelsea To Premier League Title

Cahill’s Goal Moves Chelsea To Premier League Title
March 18 21:46 2017 Print This Article

Gary Cahill made up for conceding a penalty by scoring a late winner as Chelsea moved a step closer to the Premier League title with victory at Stoke.

The England defender settled a heated encounter three minutes from time by sweeping home after Stoke failed to clear a Willian corner.

It sent Chelsea 13 points clear at the top with 10 games to play.

Chelsea striker Diego Costa was involved in a running battle with Stoke’s defenders – being booked himself and involved in incidents that saw Bruno Martins Indi and Phil Bardsley cautioned.

And the home side were reduced to 10 men in added time when Bardsley was sent off for a second bookable offence.

Willian had given Chelsea a first-half lead with an inswinging free-kick from the left that caught out keeper Lee Grant at his near post.

Martins Indi had a goal ruled out for a push by Saido Berahino on Cesar Azpilicueta, but the hosts drew level when Cahill was ruled to have pushed Jon Walters, who blasted in the penalty.

The visitors had nearly all the chances, with Marcos Alonso firing a free-kick against the bar and Pedro denied by a fine Grant save.

Even the absence of Eden Hazard with a muscle problem did not ultimately thwart Chelsea, whose relentless consistency has been extraordinary.

Hazard’s absence, only confirmed an hour before kick-off, was the major surprise as Antonio Conte’s side sought a fifth successive win.

Pedro proved a willing deputy, but it was two players who scored against Stoke in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge who provided the goals.

Willian, who struck twice in a 4-2 win over Hughes’ side on New Year’s Eve, caught out Grant with a marvellous piece of quick thinking to whip his first-half free-kick inside the near post.

Cahill’s winner actually came after a decent five-minute spell of Stoke pressure as the game opened up in the closing stages.

The decisive goal was a tribute to the work ethic Conte has instilled in his players – coming from a corner won after substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek harassed Erik Pieters into over-hitting a back pass.

Chelsea have now won 20 of their past 23 matches in all competitions, and look unstoppable.

Stoke boss Mark Hughes has spoken in the past of his admiration for Costa – a striker of undoubted talent who plays on the edge.

Hughes, a fearsome centre-forward in his playing days, has suggested he sees a bit of his own playing style in Costa’s game.

The Spain international certainly did his best to rough up Stoke’s defenders, and seemed in danger of getting sent off after he was booked with barely a quarter-of-an-hour gone.

His tussles with Martins Indi were a feature of the game from the off, and referee Anthony Taylor had to speak to both players following an early off-the-ball tangle.

Costa, though, drew the Stoke defenders into the battle – and then concentrated more on his football after half-time to keep himself out of trouble.

He made sure not to retaliate when Bardsley clattered him shortly before the break, then forced Martins Indi into a challenge for which he was booked.

There was to be no goal for Costa – chasing his 50th in the Premier League – but he still came out smiling as Stoke lost their discipline.

Hughes has managed a consistency of his own since arriving at Stoke in 2013 – three successive ninth-place finishes, and a fourth more than likely.

His players showed they were more than ready to match Chelsea physically, as Martins Indi and Ryan Shawcross relished their battle with Costa, but the home side were second best here.

Walters’ penalty was their only shot on target, and although they did well to stay in the game for so long, there was no question the visitors deserved their win.

Stoke, nonetheless, showed the grit that earned them a draw at Manchester City in their last match, and Geoff Cameron did a fine job in helping out his defenders when Chelsea’s sharp passing threatened to overwhelm them.

In the end, it was not enough – and Stoke remain without a win this season against any side currently in the top half of the table.

 

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