Today's fun fact: Chelsea have taken the lead in every match we've played in 2015. Prior to today's trip to Hull and the KC Stadium, however, they'd managed to win only 50 percent of said matches, with six draws and two defeats mixed in. Actually, I guess that's not so fun. Here's a better fact: despite getting hit by the Curse of Playing Like Morons When Ahead*, the Blues managed to maintain their six-point cushion atop the table with a 3-2 win. Hand-wringing is much better after a win than a loss.
*It's a working title, ok?
We have Loïc Rémy to thank for the victory. The French striker came on as a late substitute and immediately earned the win with a deflected effort, which are words I really wasn't expecting to write after the events of those happy first 10 minutes. Back then -- for most of the first half hour, actually -- it looked as though we'd be treated to a joyous stroll in the March sunlight, spearheaded by the effervescent Eden Hazard.
The Belgian was responsible for a brilliant opener at Hull last season, and although his second-minute strike failed to live up to his previous effort, it was still pretty good nonetheless. Chelsea pinned Hull back into their own half from kickoff, eventually leading to Nemanja Matic pinging a pass to Diego Costa, whose smart layoff set Hazard running at pace against the Hull back line.
Rather than come out to challenge, Michael Dawson sat back, inviting a shot. The invite was taken with prejudice, Hazard swinging his wand of a left foot straight through the ball, which fizzed past the despairing form of Allan McGregor and in at the far post.
So far, so good, and the one-on-one Abel Hernandez blew against Thibaut Courtois only served to make the next goal even more pleasant. Our footballing palates cleansed by the brief shock of seeing the Uruguay international free on goal, we were more prepared to appreciate the sheer genius Costa demonstrated in making it 2-0.
Set free down the left channel by Cesc Fabregas, the striker cut inside, sending Dawson scampering for cover as he headed for goal. Again, backing off opened space to shoot, but in this case the angle was tighter and the target miniscule. No matter. Costa opened himself up, bent his effort around McGregor and saw it carom in off the post. At this point, we might have expected Hull to capitulate entirely. Instead, a tactical change left us totally flummoxed, and within twenty minutes we'd coughed the lead right back up again.
Having begun the match with a back three, Steve Bruce quickly realised it wasn't working, switching to a more conventional shape and matching Chelsea's numbers in midfield. That gave the Tigers a chance of recovering loose balls in the middle third, and they began a sustained bombardment aimed at creating them. It worked -- the hosts could consistently break what was a hilariously half-hearted press and attack at speed, and it seemed like only a matter of time until the pressure paid off.
Even so, the double whammy we endured just before the half-hour mark was unexpected. The first goal was relatively routine, with Andrew Robertson catching the right side (i.e. mostly Branislav Ivanovic) napping, racing down the pitch and sending in a superb cross for Ahmed Elmohamady, who bundled in ahead of Filipe Luis.
But the second, which arrived a mere 74 seconds later, was so ridiculous it was difficult not to laugh -- Ivanovic once again got himself in a pickle a squeezed a hospital ball back to Courtois. It was not an easy pass to handle, on his weak foot and bouncing, which doesn't really excuse the young goalkeeper for trying to get cute and instead passing to Hernandez. He couldn't miss, and didn't, leaving Jose Mourinho epitomising stony-facedness on the touchline.
It took until halftime for Chelsea to find their feet again and impose some control on what was now a remarkable game. But, inch by inch, some semblance of normality was restored, and the Blues should have taken the lead just after the interval when a sublime run from Hazard set up Fabregas arriving late to the action. But for all of his merits, Fabregas is no Frank Lampard, and the shot scudded just wide.
Turning the screw against a Premier League side, however, is always an exercise fraught with peril, and Hull were hardly taking Chelsea's attack lying down. The hosts were happy to hit back on the counter and might have gone ahead if not for an utterly marvelous triple save from Courtois, who redeemed himself for the Tigers' farcical second by denying Elmohamady, Jake Livermore and Gastón Ramírez in quick succession.
Ten minutes after Courtois' heroics, we were treated to the unfortunate sight of seeing Diego Costa limp off the pitch, nursing his hamstring. Loïc Rémy was being sent on anyway, intended to replace Willian, but Costa's injury forced a change in plans, and the Frenchman ended up spearheading the attack instead.
And what a spearhead he turned out to be! Within seconds of taking the pitch, Rémy had scored the winner, poking a pass from Willian goalward and seeing the ball trickle over the line despite McGregor's attempted save. It was 3-2 Chelsea, and this time we were able to hold the lead, with the defence shaking off their collective malaise and Courtois imperious behind them.
Might we have won better? Certainly. But, at the end of the day, the three points are all that counts. Nine games left, and all the world to play for. We're not going to make it easy -- this team never does -- but the title is still very much within reach. Onwards, upwards, and all that jazz.