Thursday 22 February 2018

Bilic remains defiant despite seeing top-four hopes hit by dodgy penalty

Chelsea 2-2 West Ham United

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic Photo: Reuters / John Sibley
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic Photo: Reuters / John Sibley

Ben Findon

West Ham's drive into the top four, and the prospect of the unimagined riches of Champions League football festooning their new home at the Olympic Stadium, may have been frustrated by Cesc Fabregas's controversial late penalty in a feisty London derby but this was a display to keep alive the unlikely European vision.

Slaven Bilic's side, all silk and steel, led twice and for long stretches looked like they would end a 14-year wait for victory at Stamford Bridge.

A spectacular first-half drive from Manuel Lanzini and a composed finish just past the hour-mark by Andy Carroll, within seconds of coming on, had taken West Ham to the brink of a win that would have moved them ahead of Manchester City and into the top four.

However, Fabregas, who had earlier struck home a free-kick moments before the end of the first-half, kept his composure on a frantic day to give Chelsea a debatable 89th-minute reprieve.

"I'm proud of the boys. They played fantastically well for the majority of the game. We deserved more than a draw - we were the better team," Bilic said.

"To concede a goal that late on was gutting. And it was simply not a penalty but we are not getting those decisions."

Guus Hiddink, who has yet to taste defeat in his 14 league matches in charge since returning to Chelsea last December, backed the penalty award.

"I think it was on the line when he was tripped and he was about to score," he said. "A draw was a fair result but although we have been unbeaten we are drawing too many matches now."

The sparks were always flying as both clubs served a reminder that their showdown remains a proper derby, a cultural collision between two ends of the English capital. High-rolling West London, where achievement is part of the local birthright, pitted against the aspirational East-enders, who always have a point to prove.

"Champions of Europe - you'll never sing that," the Chelsea supporters chorused scornfully but more noise came from the visitors' end, the noisy neighbours relishing their rapid ascent.

West Ham, however, have little to fear at places like Stamford Bridge nowadays and a brisk, confident opening was rewarded by a sublime goal in the 17th minute.

A loose ball pinballed across the face of the Chelsea penalty area to reach Lanzini, who took a touch before unleashing a magnificent drive that flew beyond Thibaut Courtois.

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