In the 35th minute, the match between Chelsea and West Ham stood at something of a t-junction. One route was all happy sunshine and comfortable win, filled with bunnies and rainbows and the general sort of effect you might see in a cartoon attempting to turn our collective youth into sugar zombies. On the other were brambles and pitch-black woods and eyes that shine out of nowhere but watch your every step, the sort of slow-burning horror that makes you feel like you've given up breathing for Lent or something.
Basically what I'm saying is that Diego Costa hates bunnies.
Yes, this was, in the end, a win. 1-0 at the Boelyn Ground is nothing to sneeze at. But the manner in which the match was won was somewhat less than optimal, with bums around the planet combining to create a cacophony of squeaks during six minutes of stoppage time, and if not for some heroic play by Thibaut Courtois and the whole back line the match might have climaxed in disaster. And it all comes down to Costa being a bit of a wally.
By the time the big striker had dallied on the ball at the top of the box, allowing Carl Jenkinson to snatch what looked to be a certain goal right off his toes, the Blues were already 1-0 up. The goal was courtesy of a suspiciously offside Eden Hazard header(!) and perhaps even more inexplicably a pinpoint cross from Ramires, who retained his place after a strong performance in the League Cup final, and after that it looked as though Chelsea would seize control.
Costa should have done the seizing. Instead he chose the dark, terrifying, sphincter-tightening path. I imagine he probably had more fun that way too.
West Ham aren't as good as they looked in the first half of the season, but they're not as bad as they've been recently. The Hammers are absolutely incredible at winning aerial 50-50s -- they seem to know just where the ball with go, how to get there and how to do some serious damage to opponents' faces in the process. Kurt Zouma, reprising the DESTROY CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN role he played on Sunday*, got the brunt of the buffeting, taking hits from both Cheikhou Kouyaté and James Collins in the first half, but the rest of the Blues suffered too.
*To less effect, considering Eriksen was playing against Swansea.
Meanwhile the carnage that the hosts were inducing was more than a little problematic. Whenever they got the ball, they'd punt forward, somehow get it to stick, and proceed to bombard the goal, mopping up half-clearances with ruthless efficiency. Fortunately, Courtois was on top of his game, and both Gary Cahill and John Terry were magnificent in the penalty area, throwing themselves at everything that came their way.
The second half was even more end-to-end than the first. Ramires might have scored twice -- he hit the post after some unbelievable work from Hazard, and then saw a downward header met by an implausible save from Adrian (again after fine work from Hazard), while Willian failed to kill off the game as we marched towards injury time, hitting Aaron Cresswell on the line rather than the virtually open net in a living metaphor for his Willianness.
At the other end of the pitch Diafra Sakho had a clutch of half-chances, rendered slightly less dangerous by his habit of being just slightly off balance for each and every one. That's not to say they were real, dangerous shots, and Courtois had to be at his very best to keep one scuffed effort from landing on Kevin Nolan's toes, but we were fortunate in that the bounces never quite lined up for West Ham to get a clear sight of goal.
The defenders, meanwhile, were getting pulverised, some less metaphorically than others. On the right, Branislav Ivanovic was getting repeatedly torched by Stewart Downing, while Cesar Azpilicueta on the left was subject to a nasty scissor challenge that might have seen Kouyaté shown a second yellow. A little while later Terry was involved in a nasty (and thoroughly accidental) clash of heads with the Senegalese, which Sam Allardyce rather amusingly claimed should have resulted in a red for the Chelsea skipper.
That incident, which saw Kouyate come off by far the worse despite Terry being the one with his back turned, led to six minute of injury time, but despite the bombardment we were being subjected to -- the hosts ended up with 18 shots in the match -- Courtois stayed strong, ultimately killing the game off by claiming and falling down on a high flick. Despite the detour into the Land of Pure Terror, we emerged with another three points.
Eleven games to go. Nine wins seal it.