Saturday 17 March 2018

Hazard finds form to end Tottenham's title dreams

Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2

Tottenham players show their disappointment after Eden Hazard’s equaliser. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.
Tottenham players show their disappointment after Eden Hazard’s equaliser. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire.
Chelsea's Eden Hazard scores their second goal. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
Chelsea's Diego Costa gestures towards Tottenham's Erik Lamela as referee Mark Clattenburg looks on. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Tottenham's Mousa Dembele in action with Chelsea's Willian. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters

Mark Ogden

It has taken almost nine months, but Eden Hazard finally allowed his actions to speak louder than his words by ending Tottenham's title hopes with a stunning goal to preserve Chelsea's 26-year unbeaten home record against their bitter London rivals.

But while Hazard's goal sent the Premier League trophy heading up the M1 to Leicester, the Belgian's strike was a mere footnote to a tempestuous clash at Stamford Bridge which saw two multi-player brawls, 11 yellow cards and likely FA charges for Mousa Dembele, for attempting to gouge Diego Costa's eye, and the Chelsea forward appearing head-butt Jan Vertonghen.

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri, due to land in London from Italy as the game progressed, probably saw sparks flying above the King's Road as the two teams fought out a passionate derby which will be remembered for so many reasons, good and bad.

But it will never be forgotten in Leicester, with the 2-2 confirming the title for the Foxes, who will now receive the trophy at home to Everton on Saturday.

This fixture was always going to be a hazardous one for Tottenham, even before Leicester's 1-1 draw at Old Trafford turned it into a must-win fixture for Pochettino's team.


The failure to win at Stamford Bridge since February 1990 has weighed heavier on Spurs with every passing year, but all records are there to be broken, so what better time to erase that statistic from the history books than the night when a victory is required more than ever before?

But if winning at Chelsea has always proved difficult since 1990, Spurs were faced with a motivated home team, urged on by a set of supporters who were determined to see their bitter rivals' title hopes extinguished in west London.

Guus Hiddink's players did not need reminded of the animosity towards Spurs from the Chelsea supporters judging by their recent comments suggesting that they would do everything possible to prevent the Premier League trophy making the short journey from Stamford Bridge to White Hart Lane.

But the vitriol from the stands was tangible even before kick-off, with vocal and pointed chants directed at Chelsea's opponents - 'We f***ing hate Tottenham' being the most direct and cutting.

Then there were the banners, with one Chelsea fan unveiling one which read 'Let's do it for Ranieri,' making clear the support for the Leicester City manager whose time at Stamford Bridge continues to be remembered with fondness.

But while the anti-Tottenham sentiment appeared to have spiced up the home side's approach - it needed some injection of passion after an abject defence of the title - the febrile atmosphere also added devil to Tottenham's play.

The visitors were clearly determined to fight fire with fire and Mousa Dembele clashed with Cesc Fabregas, Jon Obi-Mikel and Diego Costa before the game was even 10 minutes old.

Dembele's sixth minute spat with Fabregas, when he appeared to stand on the Spaniard, may yet prompt retrospective action by the English FA.

But while the game did not lack intensity, it was light on early attempts on goal until Fabregas side-footed wide from 18 yards after being teed up by Costa on 27 minutes - seconds after Kyle Walker had earned a booking for a wild challenge on Pedro.

Just as the game seemed to settling into a tense stalemate, however, Kane gave Spurs renewed hope of a late surge to the title by opening the scoring with his 25the goal of the season.

The England forward had been quiet, largely due to some robust marking by Gary Cahill and John Terry, but he escaped the pair of them on 35 minutes when he sprung the offside trap to run onto Erik Lamela's through-ball. In space, Kane controlled the ball and rounded goalkeeper Asmir Begovic before stroking the ball into the empty net from 12 yards.

It was a goal that would have halted all of those title parties in the East Midlands, but worse was to come for Leicester, with Son doubling Tottenham's lead one minute before half-time after running onto Christian Eriksen's perfectly-weighted throughball.

Unmarked in the penalty area, Son beat Begovic from close range to put Spurs 2-0 ahead.

But despite their lead, the visitors began to lose their heads. Rose sparked a 20-man touchline brawl with a heavy challenge on Willian which Pochettino attempted to break up before players from both sides rushed to the scene.

Inevitably, one was Dembele, who was caught on camera scraping his fingers across Costa's left eye. If the Belgian escapes punishment for the Fabregas incident, he will be fortunate to avoid censure for the clash with Costa.

Statistically, the half-time whistle suggested that the home side were dead and buried having never previously won a Premier League game when trailing 2-0 at the interval.

And with Tottenham making the brighter start to the second half, a third Spurs goal appeared inevitable.

Kane should have delivered it on 50 minutes when he let Begovic off the hook with a soft right-foot strike after being put through by Lamela, who was booked 60 seconds later for the game's latest late challenge on Fabregas.

But after being bullied and outplayed by Tottenham, Chelsea dragged themselves back into the encounter shortly before the hour mark when Cahill made it 2-1. The Chelsea defender capitalised on a loose ball from Willian's corner to send a left-foot strike past Lloris and spark a tense final 30 minutes.

With time running out for Chelsea, Hazard hauled them level, and crushed Tottenham's hopes, when he played a one-two with Costa before curling an unstoppable strike beyond Lloris.

The midfielder milked the moment, sliding on his knees in celebration in front of the Spurs fans, just over a week after insisting Chelsea were desperate to derail their title dream.

And Chelsea did just that. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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