Hazard warning for Blues' title rivals in win on Wearside

Posted by Mark Worrall

Supporters braving a bitterly cold night on the Wearside Riviera were treated to a goalfest as Sunderland and Chelsea served up a seven-goal thriller at the Stadium of Light Wednesday. The Blues, courtesy of an outstanding performance from Eden Hazard, who sublimely netted twice, edged the not-so-lucky Black Cats 4-3.

Jozy Altidore gave the Premier League strugglers hope when firing them into an early lead, but Frank Lampard swiftly leveled matters before Hazard put the visitors ahead. After the break, John O’Shea squared proceedings, but on the hour livewire Hazard struck again to make it 3-2. Inside the last 10 minutes Phil Bardsley put through his own goal to extend Chelsea's lead, but there was still time for late drama as Bardsley atoned for his earlier mistake by scoring for Sunderland.

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Referee Phil Dowd somehow managed to find seven minutes of added time, but the Blues held firm to secure all three points and remain in contention behind Arsenal at the top of the table.

Despite the cut and thrust of Chelsea’s 4-4-2 approach to undo Southampton at the weekend, and Jose Mourinho acknowledging an improvement in the attitude of Kevin De Bruyne -- which led to the Blues' manager saying he would give the Belgian international more first team chances -- there was a familiar look to both lineup and formation as Mourinho's men took to the field at the Stadium of Light.

With the exception of Lampard, who started in place of Michael Essien, and Willian coming in for the injured Oscar, it was as-you-were from Saturday’s starting XI and with that came a certain sense of unwanted deja vu for the London club and their traveling Blue and White Army. The Premier League’s bottom side Sunderland had the temerity to open the scoring in the 14th minute, Altidore drilling the ball home with a left-footed shot.

Black Cats boss and former Chelsea player Gus Poyet celebrated, Mourinho scowled, but within three minutes it was Poyet whose face was a picture of anguish and Mourinho’s one of devilish glee as Lampard equalised for the visitors, heading home a deft Hazard cross.

Composure recovered, Chelsea pressed forward, with Juan Mata’s link-up play a joy to behold and a reminder of his capabilities, if any was needed. In the 36th minute, the Blues deservedly took the lead when Hazard skinned the Sunderland defence before curling the ball beautifully past Vito Mannone in the Black Cats' goal.

Mourinho’s men had every reason to look pleased with themselves as Dowd blew for half-time. But the smiles soon turned to frowns when slack defending of an early second-half corner allowed Sunderland captain O’Shea the opportunity to fire a loose ball past Petr Cech for the equaliser.

Mourinho looked less than impressed, but with Hazard in his side he probably knew that Chelsea like-as-not would score more than they would concede. On his night, Hazard is world-class, and unfortunately for Sunderland Wednesday was one of those nights.

Having seen Fernando Torres miss a sitter, the Belgian wizard showed his Spanish teammate how to ripple the net with a beautiful right-footer that gave Mannone no chance. Hazard’s celebration was as spectacular as his goal and Dowd duly showed him a yellow card.

At 3-2, Mourinho replaced Torres with Demba Ba. As Ba had done following his introduction as a substitute against Southampton on Saturday, the Senegalese striker was soon in the thick of the action.

Inside the last 10 minutes, Ba it was who rattled over the cross that Bardsley bizarrely, while under no apparent pressure, diverted into his own net.

In the dying minutes Chelsea’s defence were at sixes and sevens yet again when failing to deal with a corner as Bardsley cancelled out his unwanted goal. But it was too late for Sunderland. The damage had already been done.

While Mourinho, his players and Chelsea supporters will be glad of the three points that keep them in touch with Arsenal at the top of the league, they will all be mindful -- Mourinho in particular -- of the brittle defending of set pieces which continues to make life difficult for the Blues.

With a visit to Stoke looming as the fixtures come thick and fast, there is little time to iron out deficiencies at the back and the Chelsea manager will be grateful that he has a genius such as Eden Hazard to make a real difference. If you score more than you concede, you will win. It's a simple but nerve-jangling philosophy -- and for now it’s all that matters.


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