Friday 20 April 2018

Controversial Chelsea spot-kick spoils day for stylish Hammers

Chelsea 2 West Ham 2

Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta in an aerial battle with West Ham's Andy Carroll. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters
Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta in an aerial battle with West Ham's Andy Carroll. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters
West Ham's Andy Carroll tries a bicycle kick. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
Chelsea's Ruben Loftus Cheek looks disappointed after failing to hit the target. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters

Jacob Steinberg

As a measure of West Ham United's startling rise from mid-table obscurity and occasional relegation scraps to the fight for Champions League qualification, perhaps nothing illustrates it better than the deep sense of disappointment they experienced after they were denied a first victory in 14 years at Stamford Bridge by a moment of high controversy in the dying minutes.

Before Robert Madley pointed to the spot in the 88th minute, despite Michail Antonio's desperate foul on Ruben Loftus-Cheek appearing to take place just outside the area, if anything it had seemed more likely that West Ham were going to score a clinching third goal to add to the lead given to them by Andy Carroll just after the hour. Carroll had seen a header cleared off the line by Bertrand Traore and West Ham had been looking comfortable, knocking the ball around with great assurance and defending defiantly, until the moment when Guus Hiddink's side broke at pace, Loftus-Cheek was played through and Antonio brought him down, allowing Cesc Fabregas to equalise from the spot.

For West Ham, the wait for their first league double over Chelsea since the 2002-03 season goes on and, perhaps more damagingly for Slaven Bilic's side, they also missed the chance to go above Manchester City into fourth place for at least 24 hours. They led twice, opening the scoring with a brilliant effort from Manuel Lanzini, but their failure to kill Chelsea off when they were in the ascendancy was exacerbated by Fabregas's double, the first a splendid free-kick just before half-time.

A sign of West Ham's enhanced confidence early on came when Adrian was composed enough to control an awkward, looping backpass from Dimitri Payet on his chest, adroitly juggle the ball on his thigh and then volley it clear under pressure. Having already won at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, Bilic's selection was bold, with Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia able to start together in attack for the first time in almost a year, and West Ham were bright and positive from the start, breaking with energy, passing inventively and threatening in the wide areas of space between Chelsea's midfield and their back four even before they went ahead thanks to Lanzini's peach of a goal.

Bilic has tapped into the club's tradition of playing with style and adventure and West Ham had assorted methods of hurting their opponents, taking the lead in the 17th minute with a goal of the very highest quality from Lanzini. Sakho started a brisk move with a header to Payet and although West Ham's chief creator was tackled by Mikel John Obi, Lanzini collected possession 25 yards out, assessed his options and floated a shot towards the top left corner. It was in from the moment it left his right foot, struck with curl, depth and dip, bending away from Thibaut Courtois' right hand.

Chelsea were stunned and for a while, as West Ham knocked the ball around with increasing authority and belief, they were holding on. Cheikhou Kouyate glanced a free header wide, Sakho was denied by a crucial intervention from Gary Cahill and when Lanzini carved Chelsea open with a delightful backheel, Aaron Cresswell would have made it 2-0 if Branislav Ivanovic had not deflected his effort past the left post.

The cushion of a second goal eluded West Ham, however, and the visitors had been enduring long spells of pressure by the time Fabregas equalised with a lovely free-kick on the stroke of half-time. Deprived of the suspended Diego Costa and the injured Eden Hazard, Chelsea demonstrated their resolve after going behind, despite the disappointment of their exits from the Champions League and the FA Cup last week, and they began to offer their supporters glimpses of the champion spirit of old after shaking their heads clear.

They raged at not being awarded a penalty when Valencia appeared to control the ball with his right arm in the area, but they were given a chance to pull level when Winston Reid was booked for fouling Oscar on the edge of the area. Fabregas's execution was perfect, Adrian's dive futile. Having relinquished their position of dominance, West Ham were forced to focus on containment at the start of the second half, with Chelsea winning a succession of corners and Oscar close to converting Ivanovic's cross at the far post.

Loic Remy, Costa's stand-in, also saw a drive pushed away by Adrian, but the game remained in the balance and Cresswell had already rammed a shot against the bar shortly before the moment when Carroll rose from the bench and restored West Ham's lead with his first touch after coming on for Sakho.

The identity of the player who created the chance was no surprise, Payet gliding away from Fabregas and Mikel, before looking one way and deceiving the Chelsea defence with a sublime pass in the opposite direction to release Carroll, who peeled away from his markers and threaded a low finish past Courtois and inside the near post with his left foot.

Yet just when Chelsea appeared to have run out of ideas, they were rescued by Fabregas's penalty with two minutes left.


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