Jose Mourinho remains “pretty confident” his Chelsea side will be crowned Barclays Premier League champions, but Diego Costa is an injury concern for their title run-in.
Scorers: Hull City - Elmohamady (26), Hernandez (28); Chelsea - Hazard (2), Costa (9), Remy (77)
The Blues restored their six-point lead over Manchester City with a 3-2 win over spirited Hull yesterday and retain a game in hand against bottom club Leicester. That makes them heavy favourites for to lift the trophy and Mourinho was happy to accept the role of front-runners after Loic Remy grabbed a 77th minute winner at the KC Stadium.
“I’m not pretty sure, I’m pretty confident. I believe in my players, I believe that we can do it but I know it’s difficult,” he said. “I keep thinking the same, the title race should be over. In normal conditions, Chelsea should have eight, ten, 12 points more than we have; title race over. But football is unpredictable and the reality is we have a six-point lead, one game in hand, which is our best situation for the whole season.”
Costa’s short-term involvement is an open question, though. The Spain striker claimed his 20th goal of the season with a wonderful curling effort to put Chelsea 2-0 up inside nine minutes, but hobbled off with a hamstring injury.
His exit allowed for Remy’s match-winning arrival, but whether he emerges from the imminent international break in match condition is uncertain.
“When a striker is playing, the team needs a goal to win the game and, with 15 minutes to go, the striker, a guy with a lot of experience of hamstring injuries, says ‘it is over for me’, then it is over for him,” said Mourinho.
“He has this problem. He tried to play the Champions League final for Atletico [Madrid, last season] and was injured again and again and again. He has this fragility. We know his hamstring is not a strong one. He works hard through the week to compensate the weakness he has there but the injury can come. If he is injured then we have Remy, we have Drogba. We never cry about injured players.”
Costa can at least expect to miss Spain’s forthcoming games against Ukraine and Holland but, despite the added rehabilitation time, Mourinho would rather be pressing on with the domestic calendar.
“For Diego [the break] is good, because imagine we play three matches in one week, that’s three matches he doesn’t play,” he said. “But we have nine matches to play and I would like to play him every week, so it’s not good for us.”
Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois gifted Abel Hernandez an equaliser just a minute after Ahmed Elmohamady made it 2-1, side-footing a back pass straight to the City striker.
But Tigers boss Steve Bruce believes the Belgian’s brilliance later in the piece was crucial to the outcome.
Courtois produced a sensational triple save from Elmohamady, Jake Livermore and Gaston Ramirez in the 64th minute to keep the scores level.
“The big turning point in the game was where Courtois pulls off three saves which change the course of the game,” said Bruce, who was nevertheless delighted with his side’s endeavour.
“That’s as good as we’ve played for a long, long time, against the best team in England. We’re obviously disappointed to lose the game because I don’t think we deserved that. We gave Chelsea a hell of a run for their money and on another day it could have gone our way.
“I’m sure we’ve got enough and I’m convinced if we play like that, we’re good enough to stay in this division.”
Remy came off the bench to spare Chelsea’s blushes, with Courtois a relieved man after his first-half howler.
The Tigers were desperately unlucky not to take something from a rousing encounter. Fine efforts from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa put the visitors two up inside nine minutes but the expected rout never materialised as Hull stunned their visitors with two goals in as many minutes before the half-hour.
Ahmed Elmohamady tapped home the first after a wonderful run and cross by Andy Robertson and Courtois’ calamitous touch handed Abel Hernandez an open net just seconds later.
For long periods thereafter the relegation battlers were the better side, driving relentlessly at a Chelsea team who were visibly shaken, but Remy settled matters just 92 seconds after replacing Costa.
Hull: McGregor, Dawson, Bruce, McShane, Elmohamady, Meyler (Quinn 80), Livermore, Ramirez (Brady 80), Robertson (Aluko 81), N’Doye, Hernandez. Subs Not Used: Rosenior, Davies, Sagbo, Harper.
Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Luis, Ramires (Oscar 61), Matic, Willian (Zouma 80), Fabregas, Hazard, Costa (Remy 75). Subs Not Used: Cech, Cuadrado, Azpilicueta, Loftus-Cheek.
Referee: M Oliver. Att: 24,598.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS