Hull City vs Chelsea match report: Sleepwalking Chelsea rescued by Loic Remy's winner

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The Independent Football

For the middle third of this curious three-act drama it was possible to think of Chelsea as a team marooned – marooned at the top of the league.

It is no bad place to be alone, of course, but as the blue shirts drifted around the KC Stadium at 2-2, four points ahead of Manchester City with a game in hand, Chelsea’s was a strange kind of dominance of the Premier League. They, like everyone else, seemed to be waiting for the inevitable.

The title will surely be theirs and Jose Mourinho talked afterwards of “mathematics”, of it being a question of when Chelsea lift the trophy. Making it happen is what differentiates Mourinho from others.

With Diego Costa signalling hamstring concerns and having taken a buffeting all game from Alex Bruce – Costa did give some back, it has to be said – Mourinho called his principal striker off and put on Loïc Rémy.

It was the 77th minute – 50 often slow minutes on from the fourth goal of the game’s bizarre, hectic opening – and Mourinho was about to change the underwhelming Willian for Juan Cuadrado.

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Eden Hazard celebrates his goal in the second minute

Costa’s limp changed Mourinho’s mind and on went Rémy. Immediately the ball was with Willian on the right flank and his fast, low cross was heading towards Rémy’s left boot. It was Rémy’s first touch and he directed a shot that possessed enough power – just – to go through Allan McGregor’s body. 

One point became three and Chelsea’s lead at the top of the league was restored to six points.

Hull City bustled some more after Rémy’s strike but Steve Bruce’s team could not muster another equaliser. For Bruce the twin consolation was the manner of Hull’s performance after they found themselves 2-0 down after nine minutes and the fact that the five teams below Hull on Saturday morning all lost over the weekend.

Hull stay 15th, three points above third-bottom Burnley and have a better goal difference. Hull’s run-in, which sees them face six of the current top eight, leaves little room for error, but if they show the same resolve they displayed here, when it looked as if they were about to be submerged in Chelsea goals, Hull should stay up. However, they cannot begin as they did yesterday. People were still digesting events from Anfield when Eden Hazard woke up the stadium to another reality.

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Diego Costa curls in Chelsea's second

As fans took their seats, Costa met a clipped pass from midfield by Nemanja Matic. The Spaniard was 30 yards out and held off Alex Bruce as he produced a perfect flick into the path of Hazard.

There were black and amber jerseys around Hazard but he had the ball at his feet and was able to gambol 10 yards further forward before assessing his angles and directing a left-foot shot into the  right-hand corner of the Hull City net.

In three aspects, it was some goal: Costa’s touch, Hazard’s shot and the timing.

This is the opposite of what any manager plans. Yet it was soon to get worse for the home manager – though not before Abel Hernandez was one-on-one with Courtois only to hit the Chelsea keeper with his effort.

That was a warning of what was to come from Hull; it’s just that everyone, including themselves, forgot that as Chelsea walked in a second.

If Hull’s defenders had been stand-offish on the opener, they were no more inclined to breach Chelsea’s peace eight minutes later. As Costa peeled away to the right of the Hull area and shaped into a shooting position, Michael Dawson backed off. From a tight angle, Costa found the same corner as Hazard, via a nick off Dawson. McGregor had no chance. The blue corner of the stadium bounced with glee; the home fans sang to owner Assem Allam of his ongoing ‘Hull Tigers’ plan: “Why don’t you go? You said you’d sell up, so why don’t you go?”

Well, watching an apparent walkover can make the mind drift.

This could well explain what happened next. Two-nil up, in total control against shellshocked opponents, Chelsea’s players switched off. It was too easy. After fireworks on Merseyside, it was tea and toast on Humberside.

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Ahmed Elmohamady pulls one back for Hull

Lulled by their cosy domination, perhaps Chelsea did not notice Steve Bruce and his assistant Mike Phelan in animated conversation.

It was not just a defeat confronting Hull, it was a tanking. So they made a change. What on paper had been a 3-5-2 formation – but in reality was 5-3-2 – became 4-4-1-1. Paul McShane moved from the left of three centre-halves to right- back and the shift in system stiffened Hull.

On 27 minutes, Andy Robertson ran at Willian and Branislav Ivanovic and bypassed them with ease.

Robertson then delivered a low, curling cross that Ahmed Elmohamady met on the run. Courtois was beaten.

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Thibaut Courtois's loose ball went straight to Abel Hernandez (not pictured) to score

Hull had some damage limitation, and that was good enough given what had gone on already, yet 90 seconds later they had an equaliser.

Ivanovic, partially at fault for the first, was again involved. This time he slid a bobbling back pass to Courtois, who should probably have belted the ball first-time upfield. Instead, the keeper tried to play football, the ball skipped away from him and ran to Hernandez who slid it in. It was a chaotic goal to end a vivid 27 minutes. Thereafter the game slowed. Hazard’s influence faded and Willian and Cesc Fabregas were quiet.

Four minutes into the second half, Fabregas might have made it 3-2 and Chelsea had territorial control again.

But Hull retained their spark, and arguably the game’s defining moment came on 64 minutes when Courtois blocked from Elmohamady. The ball ricocheted to Jake Livermore, whose shot was again saved by Courtois. Finally, Gaston Ramirez  followed up and Courtois saved again.

That meant Chelsea’s  platform was stable when, 13 minutes later, Mourinho called Rémy from the bench. Courtois had atoned, Chelsea had won. Yet Mourinho was subdued. Marooned he and Chelsea remain, title awaiting.

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