Chelsea had to rely on a number of poor decisions to come from behind in their 2-1 win against Cardiff City on Sunday.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Ruben Loftus-Cheek provided goals in the last 10 minutes for the Blues after Victor Camarasa had opened the scoring but it was the three officials who dominated the game’s talking points.
The late equaliser was clearly offside leaving Neil Warnock with steam coming out of his ears as his side were forced closer to top-flight relegation. Maurizio Sarri also came under even more fire from the visiting fans who are continuing to lose faith in the Italian manager even though they came away from Wales with all three points.
Most of the criticism came from his pre-match decision to leave both Eden Hazard and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the bench as Ross Barkley and Willian found themselves in the starting XI. It was Chelsea’s other winger who came closest to breaking the deadlock in the opening exchanges as Pedro flashed a great strike onto the top of the crossbar after 11 minutes.
The first half then descended into one of the most boring in recent memory with little happening at either end other than a penalty shout for the hosts as Marcos Alonso tugged at the shirt of Sean Morrison in the box. As the game reached its much-needed interval, Willian sent a free-kick just wide, a half chance that the paying supporters had been crying out for.
Many thought the away side couldn’t have played much worse after half time but they were proved very wrong as Sarri’s men were a goal down within a minute of the restart. It took a fantastic piece of ingenuity from Camarasa who was able to direct Harry Arter’s half-hearted cross into the roof of the net much to the delight of his side’s manager and fans.
Morrison was to receive more special treatment from the Blues backline, this time from Antonio Rudiger who dragged the Bluebirds captain’s arm almost out of his socket to limit the attacking threat, `Craig Pawson once again waved away the hosts’ spot-kick protests.
Hazard, who had been introduced from the bench, brought a degree of urgency to a flat Chelsea team but his forays into the opposing half provided nothing in the way of chances or goals. The Belgian’s persistence did, however, manage to draw a corner out of the imposing Morrison as the clock ticked on. From that corner, the visitors were able to get on level terms in the most controversial of fashions.
Willian took the set-piece and aimed it towards the front post. Alonso was able to flick it into the path of Azpilicueta who nodded the ball into the back of the net from a matter of yards. But just as a number of Cardiff defenders had argued, the replays showed that the Spaniard was very clearly in an illegal position, infuriating Warnock on the touchline as the goal was wrongly allowed to stand.
The man with a whistle then did even more to annoy the home fans as he showed Rudiger, Chelsea’s deepest positioned defender, just a yellow card after the centre-back pulled down Kenneth Zohore deep inside the Chelsea half. In Pawson’s defence, Kepa Arrizabalaga had raced out and met the ball meaning the Cardiff attacker would not have gone through on goal.
There was still time for the relegation-threatened side to be dealt another killer blow as Loftus-Cheek powered a header beyond Neil Etheridge in front of the overjoyed Blues faithful behind the goal. Some neat link-up play between Hazard, Azpilicueta and Willian saw the latter arrow a ball in towards the England international who had the beating of Lee Peltier in the air to net his sixth goal of the season.
It certainly wasn’t pretty and it was by no means the fair result but Chelsea managed to get over the line for what could turn out to be one of their most important wins of the season. They still don’t find themselves inside the top four but just a single point now separates them from the illustrious Champions League qualification places.