SUNDERLAND, England 5th December – Eden Hazard kept Chelsea hot on the heels of Premier League leaders Arsenal as the Belgian’s dazzling display inspired a thrilling 4-3 victory at Sunderland on Wednesday.
A ninth consecutive victory at the Stadium of Light ensured Jose Mourinho’s men remain four points behind Arsenal after they fought back from a goal down to add to the relegation worries of the hosts.
Hazard embellished a man-of-the-match display by scoring in each half, but it was only when Phil Bardsley put through his own goal, inadvertently sliding home substitute Demba Ba’s cross with six minutes left, that Chelsea could start to enjoy a hard-fought victory, their third away in the league this season.
Even then, there was time for Bardsley to partially atone, firing home from close range after the visitors failed to clear an 86th minute corner, to ensure a nervy finale.
In the first of three consecutive league games against sides in the bottom five, Chelsea seemed to initially ignore the warning from Mourinho that their hosts were in a false position, as Sunderland took a 14th minute lead through Jozy Altidore.
The deadlock-breaking effort owed much to some poor defending from John Terry, who failed to push out when Andrea Dossena’s free-kick was blocked, playing three Sunderland players onside as Jack Colback’s routine pass back into the area found Altidore, named in the starting line-up for a league game for the first time in more than a month.
The United States international turned in one fluid movement to beat Petr Cech inside the goalkeeper’s right-hand post with a powerful left-foot finish to finally get off the mark in the league following a £6.5 million move from the Dutch club AZ Alkmaar with his first goal in the Premier League since scoring for Hull in a victory over Manchester City almost four years ago.
Chelsea were level within three minutes, Sunderland this time guilty of some lax defending as they failed to deal with Juan Mata’s corner, a poor clearance from Ki Sung Yueng finding its way to Hazard inside the area.
The Belgian international easily found his way past Craig Gardner to tee up a perfect cross to the near post, where Frank Lampard, allowed a free run by Dossena, was left with the simple task of heading past Vito Mannone, registering his 208th goal for the club.
Chelsea didn’t have to wait much longer before completing a first-half comeback, taking the lead nine minutes before the interval.
It came from Hazard, who picked up possession on the left, cut inside Bardsley and Gardner with minimum fuss and found the bottom corner with an angled drive from 18 yards.
Fernando Torres should have stretched the lead, but delayed long enough to allow John O’Shea to intervene after the Spanish forward was put through on goal by Lampard’s perfectly-weighted through ball.
Rather than the second-half providing an immediate platform for Chelsea to build on their advantage, Sunderland were level within five minutes of the re-start thanks to more sub-standard defending from the visitors.
Emmanuele Giaccherini’s low corner should have been easily dealt with, but somehow made its way through to O’Shea, allowing the defender to stab home the equaliser from six yards, despite the efforts of Terry to clear from the goal-line.
With Hazard excelling, it came as little surprise when he restored Chelsea’s lead with the pick of the evening’s goals shortly after the hour.
Drifting in from the left, he made light of two would-be markers to accept a return pass back-heeled by Lampard to meet his run into the area.
There was still plenty to do, but the former Lille player floated effortlessly past two more defenders to comprehensively beat Mannone with a powerful finish from 15 yards.
In a frenetic finish, Bardsley then took centre stage at both ends, but Chelsea did just enough to merit a crucial victory.