LONDON, October 18-Chelsea maintained their five-point advantage at the head of the Premier League after goals from Oscar and Cesc Fabregas secured a 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday in a game where both sides were reduced to ten men.
Oscar’s sixth minute free-kick sent Chelsea on their way and Fabregas’s 51st-minute goal ensured they had a cushion to protect them from Palace’s late rally that was capped by a 90th-minute reply from Fraizer Campbell.
Chelsea’s victory was reward for the way they reacted after the dismissal of Cesar Azpilicueta and Palace’s Damien Delaney in the space of three minutes towards the end of the first half.
Azpilicueta was sent off for an ugly lunge on Mile Jedinak in the 39th minute but a second yellow card for Delaney quickly removed the hosts’ one-man advantage.
Up to that point, Palace had looked capable of forcing their way back into the game but Chelsea –- captained by John Terry for the 500th time –- responded well and showed why they have maintained an unbeaten start to their league campaign.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was fiercely critical of his players following the defeat at Selhurst Park in March that contributed to the Blues’ failure to sustain their title challenge.
And he was forced to go into this clash without in-form striker Diego Costa — who scored nine goals in the opening seven league games — after the forward was injured while playing two games on international duty with Spain last week.
With Didier Drogba also short of full fitness, Loic Remy was handed a first league start since his £10.5 million ($17.4 million, 13.3 million euros) deadline day arrival from Queens Park Rangers.
But the change appeared to have little effect on Chelsea, who quickly assumed control of the game through Oscar’s set-piece.
Delaney was guilty of conceding the free-kick close to the edge of the penalty area when he fouled Willian and Oscar took full advantage with a curling short over the defensive wall and beyond the dive of Palace keeper Julian Speroni.
– Azpilicueta exit –
Palace, though, have maintained the momentum that helped them escape relegation last season and responded positively, with Campbell in particular causing the visitors problems.
And Palace’s hopes of working their way back into the game were boosted when Azpilicueta was dismissed.
The Chelsea left-back lunged at Jedinak with his studs showing after losing control of the ball, giving the referee little option but to issue a red card.
Palace had been handed the opportunity to increase the pressure on Chelsea but they squandered the one-man advantage when Delaney foolishly collected his second yellow card just three minutes later.
The home centre-back had been booked for a clumsy challenge on Remy in the 30th minute and while his second infringement was relatively innocuous, there was little doubt the Republic of Ireland international again checked the progress of the Chelsea forward.
Chelsea had been given a reprieve and moved quickly to put the game beyond the reach of the home side with a superbly-worked goal six minutes after the restart.
A rapid exchange of short, sharp passes between Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Oscar cut through the Palace defence and was capped with a precise right foot finish from Fabregas when the Spain international found himself one-on-one with Speroni.
Chelsea then cruised through the second half and when Campbell turned home from close range from Wilfried Zaha’s low cross, it came too late to affect the outcome