Very rarely in the 700 matches of Roman Abramovich’s ownership have Chelsea managed only one shot on target, but that was all they needed to take another stride closer to the fourth Premier League title of the Russian’s reign.
Abramovich was present in west London to see his team gain their 438th win since he bought Chelsea in 2003. It was undeserved and undistinguished, with little of the stylish football he wants, but at this stage it is all about getting over the finishing line. With Chelsea seven points clear with a game in hand, it is now a matter of when, not if, they are champions.
It was not until the 88th minute that Cesc Fabregas, who had barely played a pass right all afternoon, sweetly steered his shot through a crowd of players into the bottom corner of Rob Green’s goal. It was a shattering blow for Queen’s Park Rangers, who had worked tremendously hard in pursuit of the victory they needed to climb out of the league’s bottom three.
They might have got it had Thibault Courtois not proved rather harder to beat from eight yards than he was from 66 last week. The Belgian made a stunning save from Matt Phillips just after the hour mark as Rangers built up a head of steam.
Referring both to Charlie Adam’s freak goal for Stoke City, and to last month’s error that handed Abel Hernandez a goal, Chelsea’s manager, Jose Mourinho, said: “Courtois was there for us, but I told him that after Hull and Charlie Adam we needed him to give us a couple of points, and he did that.”
Mourinho added: “We were fortunate. We controlled them very well, but they closed [pressed] very, very well, were very organised defensively and gave us a difficult match in terms of our creation. If we’d had to go home with a point, we would have [taken that]. But every time I was champion, I remember a couple of matches my team won in the last minute. A little light that shines for the team that are going to be champions.”
The ray of hope that shone for Rangers’ caretaker manager, Chris Ramsey, after picking up four points from two away games last week dimmed with this seventh successive home defeat. “I’m sick because I think we could have given the fans a big boost by getting a point against a top, talented team,” he said. “It’s horrible. This game is almost like failing your driving test, when you’re so close but you fail it. You’d like that time back. But that’s the cruel game we play in.”
Rangers are two points from a position of safety and with trips to Liverpool and Manchester City in their remaining five games desperately need to regain the home form of autumn. “We need to turn this ground back into a fortress,” said Ramsey, but their last win in Shepherd’s Bush was in 2014.
Loftus Road had a fortress feel to it, but Chelsea are not easily intimidated. Mourinho brushed aside reports that Branislav Ivanovic had been hit by an object as his players celebrated their winner with the comment: “If it is a pound, put it in your pocket; if it is a chocolate, eat it”.
Ramsey condemned the throwing of the missile, apparently a cigarette lighter. “We don’t want any objects thrown on the pitch,” he said. “We know the hostilities between fans can sometimes go too far and if that is the case we’d like to make sure that’s not somebody who is encouraged to come back into the club.”
John Terry was unfazed by the abuse hurled in his direction. This was his first game here since being found guilty by the Football Association (though not the courts) of racist behaviour towards Anton Ferdinand. With Anton long gone and Rio Ferdinand having largely disappeared from view at QPR, Terry was spared an encounter with either brother, instead enjoying one of those physical battles he relishes with Bobby Zamora, a boyhood team-mate at the renowned Senrab club.
Didier Drogba had a rare 90-minute outing after Loïc Rémy suffered a calf strain in training. Rémy should be fit to face Manchester United next week, which will be a relief to Mourinho, given Diego Costa’s hamstring problem and how rusty Drogba looked.
From the start it was clear a swirling wind and bobbly pitch would hinder Chelsea’s passing, as did QPR’s high-tempo pressing game.
“It was difficult to create, very difficult,” said Mourinho, who did not help by omitting Oscar in favour of Ramires’ deployment as a shield in front of Fabregas and Nemanja Matic. With Eden Hazard drifting in off the left, and Willian from the right, Chelsea were very narrow. This played into the hands of a QPR team that plays three central midfielders in the midfield four.
Consequently, aside from a mishit cross by Willian that surprised Green and struck the near post after seven minutes, Chelsea struggled to threaten. Unfortunately for the spectacle, so did QPR.
There were occasional chances. Ramires put a Drogba cross over, Courtois parried Charlie Austin’s 20-yard shot and an Ivanovic cross was headed over at the far post by an unmarked Fabregas. QPR were more offensive in the second period and Courtois, besides his superb reflex stop from Phillips, also had to deny Clint Hill and Austin.
Green needed only to tip over a miscued clearance by Hill. He had been more troubled by kicking into the wind than by Chelsea and, as a draw loomed, a sliced clearance went to Hazard. The Belgian was forced wide but cut in, played a one-two with Oscar, then teed up Fabregas.
When the final whistle went a distraught Green sat on his haunches for a long time before launching the match ball angrily into the stand but, as Ramsey pointed out, he was not the only Ranger at fault.
“I’m not blaming Rob. It wasn’t one of his best kicks, but we had a long time to defend that properly and we didn’t. All that running everyone did went to waste,” said Ramsey.
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