Football: Brady pegs Chelsea back

Chelsea's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois cannot keep out Robbie Brady's masterful free kick which made it 1-1, marking the first time the Belgian had conceded directly from a free kick in the Premier League.
Chelsea's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois cannot keep out Robbie Brady's masterful free kick which made it 1-1, marking the first time the Belgian had conceded directly from a free kick in the Premier League.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Irishman hits unstoppable free kick on full debut to share the points with league leaders

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Burnley 1

Chelsea 1

Even as Chelsea drop points, they move further clear of the chasing pack. Burnley pegged them back, but they advanced 10 points clear of Tottenham and Arsenal.

Their lead is commanding and while they were not at their most fluent in just their third draw of the season, they scarcely look a side to capitulate.

They lost a lead but showed their mettle to deny Burnley an eighth straight win at Turf Moor. With snow blowing in from the Pennine hills on a bitterly cold day, this was a test of resolve. Chelsea passed it.

All credit to Burnley. This may prove crucial in keeping them up. It is certainly a feather in their cap.

Swansea were the only side outside the top six to have taken points off Antonio Conte's side.

None of the lesser lights had since the catalytic switch to 3-4-2-1. But Burnley are a formidable force at home, taking 29 of their 30 points there and that record might have been better still but for the agility of Thibaut Courtois.

There are games this season when Chelsea have not required a world-class goalkeeper. This was not one of them and should encourage them to resist Real Madrid's interest in the Belgian.

What ended as a hard-fought draw initially seemed a cruise to victory. Chelsea began in terrific form. Diego Costa had already pierced the Burnley defence once, picking out Eden Hazard, before they led from a similarly incisive move. The Belgian found Victor Moses, who darted away from Robbie Brady, advanced and found Pedro. He placed a shot beyond Tom Heaton.

If Brady was culpable then, he made amends in spectacular style. This was his first start since signing from Norwich and £13 million (S$23 million) is a colossal fee by Burnley's standards.

It may seem a bad omen that he was relegated in the last two seasons, but he showed the quality that could keep Burnley up, beating Courtois with an inch-perfect free kick. The newcomer had scored the winner for the Republic of Ireland against Conte's Italy in Euro 2016. He is starting to take on a status as the scourge of the Chelsea manager.

Beaten but blameless then, Courtois came to Chelsea's rescue a dozen minutes later with a vital block to deny the raiding right-back Matt Lowton.

He was similarly dependable with a second excellent stop when David Luiz swiped at thin air, missing Ashley Barnes' pass and affording Andre Gray a clear run on goal.

Chelsea showed more urgency in the search for a winner, Cesar Azpilicueta letting fly from long range and Conte bringing on Cesc Fabregas, Willian and finally Michy Batshuayi. But if this was a fair result, it also might serve both clubs' ambitions. Burnley are closer to survival, Chelsea nearer to the title.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'Brady pegs Chelsea back'. Print Edition | Subscribe