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Costa strike sends Blues two points clear


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Chelsea bounced back to winning ways in the Premier League with a hard-fought win against Newcastle at Stamford Bridge.

Right at the end of a frustrating first half where Newcastle created a number of fine opportunities, a modicum of genius from Willian saw the Blues capitalise on a well-worked and improvised short corner routine, as Oscar fired home from close range.

And early in the second half Diego Costa made sure of the points when he capped off a flowing team move with a precise finish for his fifteenth Premier League goal of the season.

It is tough on managerless Newcastle, who, for periods in the first half looked by far the better team, especially through the inventiveness of Remy Cabella who forced Petr Cech into a fine diving save to maintain parity.

Cech, in for the injured Thibaut Courtois, deputised more than ably and was tested by a fiercely-hit free-kick by Yoann Gouffran but the Czech goalkeeper passed with flying colours.

Courtois, typically the Blues' number one this season, broke his thumb in the Blues' five-goal thumping at White Hart Lane on New Year's Day, and considering the quality of Chelsea's second-choice goalkeeper, there was no real need for José Mourinho to risk further injury.

After impressing - and scoring - in last weekend's defeat of Watford in the FA Cup, Kurt Zouma was handed a further opportunity to stake his claim for more first-team football, though the French defender was being given a tougher examination than many people might have expected prior to kick-off,

Indeed, Newcastle continued to dominate for large periods, and moments after Moussa Sissoko saw a shot cannon off the joint between crossbar and post, things got even worse for a visibly frustrated Mourinho as Cesar Azpilicueta limped off after over-stretching his groin.

Cabella - party tricks and all - was running the game from midfield as Newcastle continued to show the greater urgency of the two teams, but when Willian won a corner off of Fabricio Coloccini, the former Shakhtar Donetsk showed great ingenuity to take the set-piece quickly. He fed Branislav Ivanovic, who should be credited for being alive to the situation, and the Serbian showed great composure to roll the ball into Oscar's path. The Brazilian did not disappoint with his first-time finish.

That goal was a middle finger to the Brazilian's critics, though, in an almost deliciously ironic fashion, that goal served to paper over the cracks of an incredibly disappointing individual performance, though few in Chelsea blue were faring much better.

He was involved in a far better team display after the interval break and played a pivotal part in wonderfully setting up the chance that Costa buried to make it 2-0 fifteen minutes into the second half.

Eden Hazard and Filipe Luis - an early replacement for the injured Azpilicueta - combined neatly on the edge of the penalty area, and the latter's flick into Oscar's path saw the Brazilian cleverly back-heel the ball into Costa's path.

Taking the ball into his stride, Costa took two touches before dispatching it with gusto past the exposed Tim Krul, who may have preferred to have extended his ten-game enforced absence through injury given the brutal clinicalness demonstrated by the Blues so far.

Cech, a spectator for much of the half, was then called into action when Newcastle substitute Sammy Ameobi's cross threatened to loop over him and into the back of the net in fashion not too dissimilar to Papiss Cissé's stunning volley in 2012, but the Blues' stopper was this time able to parry the ball over his crossbar.

Costa then saw a shot excellently cleared by the covering Coloccini as Chelsea looked to extend their lead. Beating Krul with his low drive, the naturalised Spaniard could only watch as the Newcastle skipper stuck out a size twelve to divert the ball behind.

Former Toon forward Loic Remy soon replaced Costa and went close after shooting across goal following an incisive Fabregas pass, but the damage had already been done and Newcastle - dejected and seemingly consigned to defeat the minute Costa's strike ruffled the net - had by then already had their spirits zapped by a totally professional Chelsea performance.

It was gritty rather than pretty - but that's what would-be champions do.

And the Blues' ambitions of lifting the Premier League title at the end of the season were helped by Steven Naismith's 78th-minute equaliser for Everton against Manchester City - a goal that puts the Blues two points ahead of the Citizens with a superior goal difference.

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