Norwich City 1, Chelsea 3
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich's stirring second half fightback proved in vain as Chelsea'a late salvo sunk Chris Hughton's side in Sunday's televised Premier League clash at Carrow Road.
Anthony Pilkington's close-range 68th minute header had dragged the hosts' level in a vibrant response to Oscar's fourth minute opener, but the Blues' class told in the final stages when late second half arrivals Eden Hazard and Willian struck inside a minute to end the Canaries' brave resistance.
Jose Mourinho took the acclaim of the away fans at the final whistle but Norwich could draw plenty of encouragement from their display against the title contenders as they head into the latest international break.
Hughton opted to make one change from the starting line up that secured a first Premier League away win of the new season at Stoke. Fit-again team captain Sebastien Bassong replaced Ryan Bennett alongside Michael Turner. Bennett was relegated to the substitutes' bench, where he was joined by Nathan Redmond after the England Under-21 international missed the Potters' victory with a thigh problem. Chelsea chief Mourinho deployed Demba Ba up front in place of the suspended Fernando Torres. Juan Mata's impressive form in the midweek Champions League win over Steaua Bucharest earned him a start in a midfield bristling with attacking intent alongside Oscar and Andre Schurrle.
Ba tumbled inside the Norwich penalty area after a grappling match with Bassong, but referee Swarbrick remained unmoved despite loud penalty appeals from the away support. The powerful frontman, however, regained his balance to devastating effect moments later when he burst beyond Turner before Oscar guided his cute reverse pass with the outside of his right-boot low into John Ruddy's far corner. Leroy Fer led the riposte with a surge to the edge of the Blues' box but the slip pass intended for Ricky van Wolfswinkel was cut out by Ashley Cole.
Martin Olsson then glided past Branislav Ivanovic but Petr Cech anticipated his near post centre. Chelsea's creative midfield trio sought to support Ba at every opportunity, with the forward's mobility and willingness to hunt down the channels continuing to cause the home defence problems.
Ruddy's agility denied Ba in the 14th minute after Mata was given copious time and space to thread a ball through following Ramires' initial burst. The City keeper then grasped David Luiz's tentative prod from the resulting corner. Hughton's side enjoyed a prolonged spell of possession in response, with Jonny Howson prominent, but the Yorkshireman's clipped ball for the overlapping Russell Martin skipped away on the lush turf.
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Ruddy's attempt to subdue Ba shortly after required Bassong's intervention after the England keeper spilled Cole's hanging cross in an aerial duel with the striker, but City's team captain was sweeping behind his keeper.
Robert Snodgrass' excellent retrieval work harried Cole into a turnover before the Scot slipped in van Wolfswinkel, but Luiz's scythed behind at his near post with Howson in close attendance. Chelsea's counter-attacking prowess was underlined midway through the opening period when Oscar slalomed across the face of the home penalty area before enticing Schurrle forward only for the German's rising strike to drift into the Barclay.
Ruddy's hesitancy was again evident in a fresh aerial tussle with Ba, but the City stopper scrambled the ball over his dead ball line with the Chelsea striker poised to roll into an empty net. Referee Swarbrick was doing little to endear himself to the home support with a series of close calls going against the hosts as Norwich probed around the vicinity of Cech's goalmouth.
City's growing composure was illustrated five minutes before the interval when Alex Tettey volleyed wide after Snodgrass' initial hit from van Wolfswinkel's far-post header had dropped invitingly into the Norwegian's path. Snodgrass' spiralling half-volley 20 yards out looped over after Martin had cut the Blues' open down the hosts' right-flank with City finishing firmly on top prior to the interval.
Bassong then acrobatically volleyed at Cech from 12 yards in the final act of the opening period after Turner's towering far post knockdown had veered towards his centre-back partner.
Norwich replicated their sluggish start to the first half when Ba escaped after the interval but miscued five yards out after Ramires had picked out the unmarked striker.
Referee Swarbrick then waved away home penalty appeals when Howson sprung a sharp counter that saw Snodgrass free Pilkington but the Republic of Ireland international went over after brushing Ramires. Olsson's vision freed Pilkington to cut inside Ivanovic but the hit on his right peg dribbled wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Pilkington's central role in the proceedings since the interval continued when the wide player rammed a 25-yard free kick over after Schurrle hooked down Snodgrass. John Terry's last-ditch touch then denied van Wolfswinkel after Howson's wonderful lift was re-directed by Snodgrass into the Dutchman's path eight yards out.
Oscar released the pressure on the visitors when he sneaked blind side of Olsson to collect Mata's roll but the Brazilian's swerving strike failed to trouble Ruddy. Fer invited Tettey forward from his defensive station in the 65th minute but Cech was able to wave the hit from range over his bar. City deservedly drew level in the 68th minute when Pilkington glanced home van Wolfswinkel's flick from Olsson's gorgeous cross on the run. Lampard tried to nudge Chelsea back in front when Tettey was cautioned for dragging down Schurrle but City's wall did the job.
Gary Hooper replaced van Wolfswinkel in the 73rd minute with the Dutchman rightly earning a standing ovation from the home support for his selfless shift. Mourinho introduced Samuel Eto'o and Hazard in reply with Cole making way and Schurrle retiring to a defensive position. Ruddy went full length to keep out Ivanovic's long range strike before Hazard's excellent spin and hit drifted wide from the edge of the area with Ruddy stranded on his goal line. Snodgrass clubbed wide after Pilkington led the break-out in the Scot's final contribution before making way for Nathan Redmond with ten minutes left of a pulsating contest. The teenager wasted little time in making his presence felt when he lined up Luiz and tested Cech with a fizzing hit.
But all City's endeavour ended in cruel fashion when Hazard pounced on Tettey's miscued clearance to slot underneath Ruddy from 16 yards, despite the keeper's vain attempt to claw the ball back over the goalline. Willian then opened his Premier League account a minute later with a sublime curling effort on his left that flew past Ruddy into his top corner from the edge of the home area to bring Mourinho to his feet at the front of the away technical area.
• Norwich: Ruddy, Martin, Bassong, Turner, Olsson, Howson, Tettey, Fer, Pilkington, Snodgrass (Redmond 80), van Wolfswinkel (Hooper 73). Subs (not used): Bunn, Whittaker, Johnson, Elmander, R Bennett.
• Booking: Tettey (foul on Schurrle, 69)
• Goal: Pilkington (68)
• Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, D Luiz, Terry, Cole (Hazard 74), Ramires, Lampard, Oscar, Mata (Willian 81), Schurrle, Ba (Eto'o 73). Subs (not used): Schwarzer, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Essien.
• Booking: (Oscar foul on Snodgrass, 62)
• Goals: Oscar (4), Hazard (85), Willian (86)
• Added on time: 1 minute / 4 minutes
• Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire)
• Attendance: 26,840