Costa let off, hits winner

Chelsea striker Diego Costa striking a daisy-cutter late on to hand his new boss Antonio Conte a debut win over West Ham.
Chelsea striker Diego Costa striking a daisy-cutter late on to hand his new boss Antonio Conte a debut win over West Ham. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

West Ham aggrieved after Chelsea striker escapes punishment for lunge on goalkeeper

LONDON • Antonio Conte has his lift-off and, in the afterglow of a restorative 2-1 English Premier League victory over West Ham, Chelsea feel like a club revived.

The 10th permanent managerial appointment Roman Abramovich has made ended this ferocious London derby leaping in delight on the touchline, high-fiving fans, then burying himself in the front row of the east stand, as the arena erupted to celebrate the winner.

After last season's traumas, the locals will ignore the inevitable controversy that accompanied success. One game in and Conte is adored.

It was Diego Costa, inevitably, whose contribution had Slaven Bilic and his crestfallen West Ham players enraged.

The Spain forward, who had already been booked, attempted to close down Adrian, slid in and planted his left foot into the inside of the goalkeeper's right calf midway through the second period.

TOOTH AND NAIL

That is the fight and the commitment we want. We dug in for a London derby.

JOHN TERRY, Chelsea captain, on their opening victory over West Ham.

Anthony Taylor, the referee, took his time before determining no second caution would be flashed, let alone the red card for which plenty of the visitors were calling.

There was an inevitability thereafter about where this dramatic occasion would veer. It duly arrived when Eden Hazard's penalty in the 47th minute opened the scoring, before James Collins equalised for West Ham half an hour later.

The game was in its final minute, when the Hammers lost possession wastefully. Costa took advantage, fizzing a low shot through the clutter of centre-halves and into the far corner of Adrian's net. The visitors sank to their knees in deflation, Bilic infuriated on the sidelines.

"The winning start was vital," said John Terry. "That is the fight and the commitment we want. We dug in for a London derby. That is great for the management."

They have missed evenings like this in these parts. Chelsea had beaten only five teams in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge last season, surrendering to as many visitors, to offer some context to Conte's immediate impact.

New signing N'Golo Kante for Cesc Fabregas was his only alteration to the side, then champions, who started the opening game of the last campaign under Jose Mourinho.

Yet Hazard was unrecognisable from the player who had taken over eight months to open his account last season. A "great talent" with a "fantastic attitude" was his Italian coach's evaluation.

Bilic was brutally honest in his post-match assessment.

"Chelsea were much more aggressive, winning balls and second balls," he said, "And their front four were on fire."

Conte said he was pleased with the intensity of his players.

"I liked the great intensity of my players," the Italian said.

"We know we can improve through work but, today, it was very important to start with a victory."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Costa let off, hits winner'. Print Edition | Subscribe