Diego Costa’s offside winner for Chelsea puts Norwich deeper in the mire
Home team scorers Nathan Redmond 68
Away team scorers Robert Kenedy 1 Diego Costa 45 +0:55
Norwich City must wince at how cruel life in the Premier League can be. This was a brutal defeat to contemplate, a match lost to a Chelsea goal that should have been ruled out for offside, and despite their own second-half revival. With Sunderland’s draw against Crystal Palace sending them into the bottom three, it may take some time to recover from this.
They had retained hope to the end, Nathan Redmond testing the visitors and the excellent Wes Hoolahan constantly creating from the centre. Stoppage time at the end was played out to the rat-a-tat of Norwich attempts, and the wailed dismay of the home support as the efforts flew wide. The sense of deflation on the final whistle was palpable.
This always had the makings of an awkward occasion for a Norwich team in desperate need of a response to recent poor form after taking only one point from seven games. Even that had been made to feel wasteful given that they had led West Ham United 2-0 only to be pegged back.
The absence of Steven Naismith, such a regular scorer against Chelsea, had blunted their attack further, though what Alex Neil craved most of all was solidity. A trio of centre-halves confronted the champions, a barrier charged with stifling the visitors’ attacking intent. That ambition was wrecked within the opening minute and by the interval, they already had the air of a team condemned.
It took Chelsea only 39 seconds to prise them apart, the Brazilian left-back Kenedy collecting from Eden Hazard to scurry at Ivo Pinto, swerve away from a tentative Alex Tettey, and eke space from the hesitant Ryan Bennett. He fired his finish across the diving John Ruddy and into the far corner, with the hosts dazed and confused by the pace of their unravelling. That they eased themselves into the contest thereafter offered some hope, Cameron Jerome looping a header on to the roof of the net to hint at a riposte, but the mood was already soured, a sense of foreboding growing among the majority in the stands.
The home support were infuriated by the referee Lee Mason’s refusal to penalise Thibaut Courtois for picking up a back-pass – the ball had actually touched Jerome en route – though their fury should really have been vented more at an assistant referee for a lack of a flag from the linesman Michael McDonough in stoppage time at the end of the period. Diego Costa was clearly offside as Bertrand Traoré, on his first start for the London club, guided a pass through for the forward to collect. The finish was clipped expertly over Ruddy to provide a 10th goal in 14 games under the interim management of Guus Hiddink. He is a player reborn.
Traoré’s eager running had been one of the features of the contest, the youngster’s impact only frustrated by a heavy first touch when sent through on goal, though it was the home fans who cursed loudest at their own team’s the profligacy.
When Redmond and Hoolahan combined neatly down the right, Russell Martin was found in space on the opposite side and he nodded the playmaker’s centre back across goal. But with Courtois helpless, and Oscar and Branislav Ivanovic on the goal-line equally so, Jerome’s volley clipped the bar.
Hiddink’s immediate response was to bring on Mikel John Obi to shut up shop because sloppiness had crept into his team’s display, but Norwich were not be denied. Hoolahan was again creator, easing a pass into space between Kenedy and Ivanovic, and the eager Redmond sprinted through to convert first time.
That fuelled their belief, Chelsea’s earlier composure suddenly undermined by Norwich’s furious urgency, but their subsequent frantic attempts to draw level ultimately came to nothing.
Redmond, so bright when given space in which to charge, fizzed a late effort into the side-netting, but that was as close as they came.
While Chelsea have pushed themselves into the top half of the table for the first time since the end of the summer transfer window, Norwich have slipped beneath the relegation cut-off point. It remains to be seen if they can summon the momentum to survive.