For large parts of the game tonight Sunderland looked more than equal to Chelsea, but the match was eventually decided by the individual brilliance of the utterly fantastic Eden Hazard. However, Sunderland showed extremely encouraging attacking desire and fight to first take the lead, and then twice bring themselves back into the game before fighting right until the final whistle.
As might have been expected Chelsea dominated the opening exchanges of the game, with the first chance being created just a few minutes in when a mazy run from Eden Hazard was followed by a dangerous cross into the box from Juan Mata that was just scrambled clear by the Sunderland defence. However after that though Chelsea had more of the ball, they were kept mostly out of the Sunderland box.
It was not long before Sunderland began to impose themselves though, as the home side looked to bring Jozy Altidore into the game the big American was fouled on the edge of the Chelsea area by makeshift left-back Cesar Azpilicueta. The resultant freekick was smashed into the wall by Andrea Dossena, and pinballed around the area before falling to Giaccherini on the edge of the box. The Italian, impressive against Aston Villa despite his horrendous miss, played it to the feet of Altidore who had his back to goal, and John Terry blocking the path to it. This proved to be immaterial as the Sunderland striker piroutted before smashing the ball into the back of the net for his first Premier League goal in red and white. A superb goal by Altidore, and one that perfectly showcased the strengths to his game that he showed throughout the half. His hold-up play was consistently good, and enabled Sunderland to keep the ball whilst men came up the pitch to support their lone striker.
A great way to seize the initiative early on, and evoked hopes that Sunderland could produce a similarly gritty 1-0 victory to the one won against Manchester City in the last home fixture. However, it wasn't to be. Just a few moments later Chelsea demonstrated the great skill in their ranks. Willian's cross from the right found Mata in the box, where the Spaniard's attempted ball across the face of Mannone's goal was knocked out for a corner. Chelsea, though, were not to be deterred and the corner eventually found its way out to Hazard on the left-hand side of the box. The Belgian produced another brilliant run to the byline before sending a lovely cross into the box that was duly headed home by an onrushing, and unmarked, Frank Lampard.
It was disappointing for Chelsea to equalise so soon after Sunderland had taken the lead, and although the work from Hazard to create the chance was sublime, it was still poor that Lampard was able to take the chance unopposed from the dead centre of the Sunderland area.
Sunderland were far from out of the game, however, and still managed to put together several decent spells of possession and carved out a couple of good chances as well. The most noticeable came when a quick counter-attack lead to Dossena's fierce shot from the edge of the box being punched wide by Cech for a corner.
Eden Hazard's skill shone once against, as the Belgian cut in from the left evading Phil Bardsley and Craig Gardner before firing in a great shot from the edge of the box. A cruel blow for Chelsea to take the lead after Sunderland had played so well following Lampard's earlier equaliser. We were lucky to avoid a sucker punch just a few minutes later as Lampard played a brilliant ball up from deep for Fernando Torres, but the striker's control was poor and allowed John O'Shea to nip in front of him and tap the ball back to Vito Mannone.
The second half looked like it would be all the away side for as Sunderland barely had a touch of the ball in the opening few minutes. However, Altidore steamed in to nick the ball from Ramires before darting past the Brazilian for a surge down the left wing that was only stopped when Ramires tripped him. The Chelsea midfielder was booked for the cynical foul, but the drive from Altidore appeared to put the heart back into Sunderland and the home side began an excellent spell of pressure on the Chelsea goal. Eventually this lead to a Sunderland corner that was bounced around the area before being seized upon by O'Shea. The captain's shot looked to take a deflection off a Chelsea leg on the way in, but the Irishman will still claim it.
Chelsea looked to make an immediate comeback, and were perhaps unlucky that two decisions went against them. The first involved two little trips from Jack Colback on Willian. The first saw the ginger maestro booked and the second, a cynical trip on the halfway line to stop a counter, lead to vociferous appeals from Chelsea's Captain of Gobbiness John Terry, who wanted Colback off for a second yellow. Luckily referee Phil Dowd decided against it, and not long after Gus Poyet wisely withdrew the Tynesider for Seb Larsson.
The second decision that went against Chelsea was their £50million purchase of Fernando Torres. Hazard went on yet another beguiling run against the Sunderland defence, and his eventual shot was parried straight to the feet of the Spanish striker. Yet, as so often is the case, he panicked and spooned his effort well over the bar. However, it wasn't long before the excellent Hazard once again grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck.
Stuck on the left wing with two defenders between him and the Sunderland area, the Belgian played a quick pass to Lampard who returned it with a lovely backheel. Now away from the defenders, Hazard skipped across the edge of the six yard box before slamming his shot into the bottom corner of Mannone's goal. Once more Sunderland's hard work and determination had been undone by the Chelsea attacker's sublime skill.
The game, which was entertaining throughout, continued to swing back and forth even with Chelsea have retaken the lead. With around 15 minutes to go Sunderland should have had a penalty when Craig Gardner was barged to the floor by Terry as he waited under a lofted ball, yet the well positioned Dowd somehow decided to wave play on. Chelsea also had a penalty appeal as another dangerous run from Hazard led to Ba lining up a shot at the edge of the box. However, just before the ex-Newcastle striker pulled the trigger he was tugged back by O'Shea causing his shot to fly high and wide. Replays showed the incident to have occurred outside the box, but despite being a clear foul it was again just waved away by the referee.
Gus Poyet decided to try and seize the initiative with an attacking change as he subbed off Gardner and brought Fletcher on in his place. The decision nearly paid off immediately as the Scottish Jesus exchanged passes with fellow substitute Adam Johnson on the right wing before Johnson sent in a dangerous cross that was punched away by Cech, but only as far as Ki. Unfortunately the South Korean's shot then flew wide of the Chelsea goal.
Just as you could see Sunderland encamping outside the Chelsea box to lay siege to Cech's goal, the sucker punch was delivered. Demba Ba sped down the right flank and then sent a ball across the face of the Sunderland goal. Luckily for the home side, the striker was well ahead of his team mates and the cross was set to fly straight out for throw-in. Unluckily for the home side, Phil Bardsley was there. Inexplicably the right back decided, under no pressure, to try and put the ball out for a corner - instead he managed to toe-poke it into his own net. Three points in the bag for Chelsea, or so it seemed. Barely a minute later from another Sunderland corner the right back managed to partially redeem himself by slotting the ball home after it was pinged around the Chelsea box. 3-4.
Despite six minutes of added time and concerted and continual pressure from a Sunderland side who never gave up, that was unfortunately how it ended. Right at the very death Adam Johnson had a chance to grab a hard-fought point after Ki skipped across the edge of the box before feeding the winger in space, but instead of firing home Johnson dithered and his eventual pull-back went missed Ki and was cleared. All in all a fantastic game and much improved performance from Sunderland, but Poyet's 100% home record is no more.
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