So Jose Mourinho is still waiting for the first Premier League goal of the season by a Chelsea striker – apart from those scored by Romelu Lukaku on loan at Everton. Not that the Chelsea manager will mind too much if his midfielders go on punishing opponents as thoroughly as they punished Norwich yesterday for the temerity of believing they could beat his side.
After finally neutralising an early Chelsea lead, Norwich were going all out for victory when they were stung by two late goals by players, Eden Hazard and Willian, who had only just taken the field. It was, admitted Mourinho, a gamble. “Substitutes are important if they come in well – if they come in and change the game the manager did very well.”
With Fernando Torres both injured and suspended and Samuel Eto’o relegated to bench duty, Mourinho placed a heavy striking responsibility on Demba Ba. And he delivered within four minutes, not by scoring but by creating the opening from which Oscar steered a first-time shot with the outside of his right boot inside keeper John Ruddy’s far post.
Norwich manager Chris Hughton’s decision to pack the midfield went some way towards stifling Chelsea, but left the lightweight Ricky van Wolfswinkel too often isolated up front. Despite decent shots from Jonny Howson and Leroy Fer (both saved) and Robert Snodgrass (over the bar), the home side’s dogged attempts to pass their way through seldom looked more likely to succeed than Chelsea’s favoured ploy of hitting long high balls up to Ba, which had achieved the desired effect once and repeatedly left Ruddy and his defenders with the sun in their eyes.
The most ambitious shot of the game came moments before half-time, a swipe by David Luiz from the halfway line that dropped inches beyond the Norwich crossbar.
The second half began with Ba glancing Ramires’s low cross past the far post when a clean connection would have put the game beyond Norwich. Mourinho confessed: “When he missed the easy goal I smelt that they [Norwich] would score one.”
They did, but not as soon as they might have. After 49 minutes Ramires went unpunished for felling Anthony Pilkington with a challenge that should have been a penalty and might have been a red card too as the Norwich man was clear and about to shoot. Hughton said: “Generally that’s a penalty,” but added generously, “I wasn’t sure at the time.” His view was not as clear as that of the referee, Neil Swarbrick, whose laissez-faire attitude was inexplicable.
Pilkington’s consolation came in the 68th minute when he scored a well-deserved equaliser, beating Luiz to the ball close in after Van Wolfswinkel had outjumped John Terry to head back a cross from Martin Olsson.
Nathan Redmond, sent into the fray by Hughton with nine minutes remaining, almost made an instant impact with a splendid run and a shot that stung Petr Cech’s palms. But it was the Chelsea substitutes who turned the game in the final five minutes.
From a Norwich corner, Chelsea broke rapidly for Hazard to get the better of Alexander Tettey and score with a shot that Ruddy slowed but could not prevent from crossing the line. In the next attack, Willian left Ruddy flailing with a superb shot into the far corner from just inside the right-hand side of the penalty area.
Mourinho’s gamble had paid off. “At 1-1 we could win or lose; we lost a bit of balance [bringing on Hazard for Ashley Cole] to try to create. We are trying to be top so one point would be a bad result for us,” he said.
No points was a disappointing outcome for Hughton, who said: “When you bring the quality of players they did off the bench it’s very difficult. But there were good phases when we were the better team. We deserved more.”
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