Chelsea eked out a precious 2-1 home victory against Crystal Palace in Wednesday’s all-London Premier League showdown at Stamford Bridge.
Like his Palace counterpart Roy Hodgson, Mauricio Pochettino is under heavy scrutiny after a 2-1 defeat away to Wolverhampton Wanderers condemned the Blues to a third loss in four league matches.
Stamford Bridge has been a feeble fortress this season, as evidenced by Chelsea’s indifferent nine-game league record in west London (W3, D3, L3).
But the under-fire Argentine manager had hoped the Bridge return would offer his troubled team much-needed stimulus amid a rough patch, especially against a Palace side they’ve defeated in their last 12 duels.
Despite the Eagles’ underwhelming seven-game winless streak in the Premier League (D3, L4), this was never going to be a straightforward task for mid-table Chelsea.
Flying out of the traps was crucial, and Mykhailo Mudryk offered just that as he latched onto Malo Gusto’s teasing ball into the box and slammed it past Dean Henderson to put his team in front in the 13th minute.
With Palace pleased to keep their lines deep and soak up the pressure despite falling behind, the hosts seemed in cruising control of proceedings in the opening half an hour.
Chances were hard to come by, but Chelsea could’ve doubled their lead only ten minutes after breaking the deadlock.
Goalscorer Mudryk unleashed a thunderous volley from point-blank range, only to see Henderson pull off a stunning save to deny him his first Premier League brace.
As the game approached half-time, Pochettino’s side tucked themselves into a false sense of security while Palace grew into the contest, taking advantage of a slow tempo to shock their hosts.
Jordan Ayew lifted the ball over the top for Michael Olise, who chested it down and smashed it past helpless Djordje Petrovic after finding himself unmarked on the edge of a six-yard box.
Benoit Badiashile, who made an awful mistake at Molineux last weekend, lost track of the French forward, proving Pochettino wrong for benching Thiago Silva as Palace grabbed an equaliser on the stroke of the interval.
Amid a relatively uneventful start to the second half, the ex-Tottenham Hotspur manager brought the crowd to its feet by handing summer arrival Romeo Lavia his Chelsea debut.
However, the Blues continued to struggle until Conor Gallagher dispatched a delightful defence-splitting pass to set up Nicolas Jackson one-on-one with the keeper.
The heavily-criticised striker gave his doubters another reason to question his ability as his wayward finish from a promising position flew well wide of the post.
Only a minute later, he got on the scoresheet from a much tougher angle, but referee Michael Salisbury disallowed his goal after VAR found him a fraction offside.
Palace threatened on the other end through Olise, who forced Djordjevic into a routine diving save, resulting in a corner for the visitors.
It looked like Chelsea would have to settle for another stomach-wrenching point when second-half substitute Noni Madueke drew a silly foul from Eberechi Eze just inside the box.
Though Salisbury refused to point to the spot at first glance, he overturned his initial decision after receiving a call from VAR to double-check the incident.
With Cole Palmer suspended, Madueke stepped up to the plate, sending Henderson the wrong way to restore Chelsea’s lead right before second-half stoppages.
And while Pochettino’s strugglers temporarily whittled down the gap on fourth-placed Tottenham to 11 points, Palace’s freefall continues.
Hodgson’s side, which started this round three points clear of 18th-placed Luton Town, is experiencing their worst run in the Premier League since the tail-end of Patrick Vieira’s tenure midway through last season.
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