Chelsea have gone seven points clear at the top of the table after a tough 1-0 victory at away at QPR which tested their nerve and strength of mind to the very end.
The game had a clumsy and slightly nervous edge to its beginning as QPR did their best to hassle their visitors off the ball and play in their centre forwards Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora. Chelsea struggled to find their form early on and misplaced passes were common, perhaps more as a result of the brilliant sunshine than the pressure of the title race. The first opening for Chelsea came from a corner, after a slight scuffle in the box, Willian crossed from the right beat Rob Green in the QPR goal and hit the post, with Gary Cahill unable to reach the ball in time to turn it into an empty net.
QPR’s biggest threat early on came from crosses from the wing and once or twice Chelsea had to clear the ball behind the goal when Thibaut Courtois was reluctant to come for it. The home side found it difficult to get forward with an effectivenetss and Chelsea were often left unable to create space wide on the small Loftus Road pitch. Eden Hazard in particular, though quick to turn on the ball, was heavily marked and brought down when 30 or more yards from the goal, as the game developed into a pattern of neither side doing much to threaten the scoreline
The half’s brightest moment came when QPR’s Austin took the opportunity to shoot early from distance and forced a save from Courtois. Chelsea’s best chance came presently – Branislav Ivanovic whipped in a good cross, and Cesc Fabregas’ header should of at least hit the target.
QPR created the second half’s first chance when a cross Matt Phillips on the right flew in dangerously but Zamora was unable to make contact. A shot from Clint Hill forced a save from Courtois minutes later and Ausitn preceded to kick the Chelsea goalkeeper as he went passed, for which John Terry castigated him.
Chelsea were too keen to play the ball far up the pitch to Drogba, who was often isolated and unable to hold the ball up for the supporting attackers as he has done in past years. Oscar was brought on and injected considerable pace into the attack, and Chelsea should have taken the lead when Ivanovic failed to make significant contact when Drogba flicked on Oscar’s corner. Chelsea were improving as the game went on, but Courtois had to make a brilliant save when Phillips collected the ball with his back to goal and turned quickly. His powerful shot was pushed around the post by the Belgian when he had little time to think.
Despite the relative improvement in play, Chelsea went about their game with a nervousness unbecoming of Premier League champions-to-be. Passes were made too early and counter-attacks therefore ineffective. The league leaders had a spell of winning free-kicks and earning corners, from which nothing came. A scramble in Chelsea’s box gave Austin the chance to shoot but his shot was scuffed and landed in Courtois’ arms.
The frustration and tension turned to joy and relief two minutes from the end of the 90 when Fabregas gave Chelsea a precious lead. QPR keeper Green made a poor clearance which fell straight to the feet of Hazard on the halfway line, who ran forward, exchanged passes with Drogba in the box, and played the ball onto the onrushing Spain international Fabregas who fired the ball beneath Green into the goal.
The final whistle went after five minutes of stoppage time, securing a priceless win for the Blues and proves once again they have the nerve to win the Premiership title, even when they are not playing well. It is a huge defeat for QPR too, who, although deserving of at least a point, are pulled deeper into the relegation battle.
Green, Isla (Dunne, 92′), Onuoha, Caulker, Hill, Phillips, Barton, Sandro (YC) (Kranjcar, 81′), Henry, Austin, Zamora (YC) (Hoilett – 83′)
Subs not used: McCarthy, Mitchell, Grego-Cox, Comley
Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Ramires (Oscar, 56′), Matic, Willian (Cuadrado, 80′), Fàbregas (Zouma, 92′), Hazard, Drogba
Subs not used: Cech, Filipe Luis, Mikel, Brown
Referee: Andre Marriner