SPORTS: CHELSEA 2-1 WEST HAM: DIEGO COSTA SETS CONTE ERA OFF WITH A BANG

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August 15, 2016 by Levi Dominic

Costa celebrates after scoring

It looked as though we would be frustrated despite dominating for long periods when James Collins struck to cancel out Eden Hazard’s penalty, but centre-forward Diego Costawas on hand to hit a late, late winner and hand Antonio Conte a perfect start in English football.

We had started brightly and dominated the visitors for long periods but struggled to break through, only for Cesar Azpilicueta to be awarded a spot kick when he was tripped by Michail Antonio just after the break.

Hazard duly converted and Chelsea looked comfortable, only for West Ham to score with their only effort on target 15 minutes from time when Collins hammered home at a corner.

It looked like we were going to be denied a winning start but when Diego Costa found space 20 yards out, he hammered home to ensure all three points stayed in west London.

As Conte took the reins for the first time at Stamford Bridge, he awarded one full debut, to N’Golo Kante in the holding midfield position, while fellow new arrival Michy Batshuayi was on the bench. Conte opted for a familiar back five while the attacking threat of Willian, Oscar, Hazard and Diego Costa would also have sprung few surprises.

West Ham afforded Premier League debuts to Andrew Ayew, a goalscorer here for Swansea on the opening day last season, and full-back Arthur Masuaku as they sought their first victory at the Bridge since 2002. Substitute Gokhan Tore was previously a Chelsea youth.

A frenetic first 10 minutes brought just one incident of note, Kante booked for downing Andy Carroll with West Ham on the break, but Chelsea were gradually beginning to gain the upper hand and almost took the lead when Branislav Ivanovic burst into the Hammers box following slick build-up play from Oscar and Willian. The Serbian turned inside Cheikhou Kouyate and shot low at the near post but was denied by the outstretched arm of Adrian in the West Ham goal.

On 18 minutes Oscar dispossessed Mark Noble in midfield and slipped into the area past Winston Reid before going to ground. Appeals were widespread, with Diego Costa receiving a yellow card in the aftermath, but referee Anthony Taylor waved play on.

Hazard was showing flashes of his talent down the left and on the half-hour mark really sprung into life, cutting inside at pace and bending his shot towards goal, unfortunately for the Blues just past the far post.

Diego Costa then fired just over from distance with the visitors struggling to get out of their own half. Carroll was isolated against John Terry and Gary Cahill, and Ivanovic and Azpilicueta were regularly getting forward into dangerous areas down the flanks, though Conte would probably have been looking for one of his midfielders to be joining his centre-forward in the area.

Right on half-time, Willian took the time to size up a free-kick from about 30 yards in his favourite left-centre position. He bent it well but Adrian tipped over and from the resulting corner Azpilicueta flicked his header over. A positive opening for the Blues, but frustratingly it was goalless.

That frustration was to be short-lived as within a minute of the restart Chelsea had been awarded a penalty. Azpilicueta had won the ball back just outside the area and as he strode inside it he was tripped by Antonio.

Hazard stepped up and confidently blasted his spot kick high down the middle and into the roof of the net. The Belgian, who had a fine Euros, will have been pleased to have got off the mark having waited until April for his first goal of the 2015/16 season, and Conte was clearly delighted in the technical area.

The early goal meant West Ham would have to be more adventurous if they were to take anything back to their new Stratford home, allowing Chelsea more space in which to counter-attack.

Only a last-ditch defensive block prevented Willian from teeing up either of the waiting Hazard of Diego Costa. Just after the hour great work in midfield by Nemanja Matic and Oscar released Willian in the right-hand channel and he brought a fine low stop from Adrian to keep the lead at one, but the home team was looking increasingly threatening.

You sensed a killer second goal may be required, and when Azpilicueta was adjudged to have challenged Carroll with a high foot, there was a tension in the air as substitute Dimitri Payet stepped up to hit the free-kick.

The Frenchman’s free-kick was deflected behind for a corner, to some relief among the Stamford Bridge faithful, but from that cross the ball eventually fell to James Collins, who rammed home an equaliser with his left foot.

It was the first time Thibaut Courtois’ goal had been threatened, a harsh blow to the Blues who had to that point dominated proceedings.

Conte acted quickly in trying to regain the upper hand, bringing on Pedro for Willian and then Batshuayi and Victor Moses in place of Oscar and Hazard, moving a second man up front in an attempt to pressure the Hammers back line.

Moses, who was on loan at Upton Park last season, delivered a tantalising cross from the left, only half-cleared to Pedro, whose right-footed volley flashed across goal and wide.

Just as time looked to be getting away from us, the home defence, which had shackled Diego Costa pretty well, allowed the Spaniard space outside the area, and after shifting the ball onto his right foot, he unleashed a low drive through the legs of Collins and beyond Adrian into the far bottom corner.

The Bridge erupted, Conte embraced anyone close to him, and the Blues were back in front.

There was just time for Carroll to cause panic at the other end, but Courtois pounced on the ball and Chelsea went forward again with the head coach urging calm. Almost five minutes of added time were up when the final whistle eventually went, with celebratory scenes breaking out all around the ground.

It was a tough start but it feels like a serious test has been passed, with Conte celebrating on the pitch with his players afterwards. Next up, it’s a trip to Watford on Saturday. We can’t wait.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, JT (c), Azpi; Kante; Willian (Pedro 80), Matic, Oscar (Batshuayi 85), Hazard (Moses 85); Diego Costa.
Unused subs Begovic, Aina, Fabregas, Loftus-Cheek.
Scorers Hazard (pen) 47, Diego Costa 89
Booked Kante 3, Diego Costa 20, Azpilicueta 75, Pedro 90+3

West Ham United (4-1-4-1): Adrian; Antonio (Byram 52), Reid, Collins, Masuaku; Nordtveit (Payet 66); Ayew (Tore 34), Noble (c), Kouyate, Valencia; Carroll.
Unused subs Randolph, Ogbonna, Oxford, Obiang.
Scorers Collins 77
Booked Collins 21, Antonio 46

Referee Anthony Taylor
Crowd
 41,521

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