Norwich 0 Chelsea 1: Mata strike sees off Canaries for third straight win
16:58 GMT, 26 December 2012
17:42 GMT, 26 December 2012
Juan Mata's first-half strike was enough to secure all three points for Chelsea as they beat Norwich in a game of little quality at Carrow Road.
The win moves the Blues to within four points of second-placed Manchester City in the Barclays Premier League table but it was only a fantastic effort seven minutes from half-time that separated the two sides.
Mata, who scored his sixth goal in eight games with aplomb, also missed a good opportunity with the scoreline 0-0 while Norwich had decent spells of possession but were too blunted in attack to ever truly test Petr Cech.
Beauty: Mata broke the deadlock seven minutes before half-time with a long-range effort
Delight: Mata celebrates his goal with Ashley Cole
Bunn, Martin, Turner, Bassong, Garrido, Snodgrass, Tettey, Johnson (Howson 82), Pilkington (Morison
78), Hoolahan (Elliott Bennett 88), Holt.
Subs Not Used: Rudd, Jackson, Barnett, Ryan
Cech, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole, Mikel (Lampard 73), Luiz, Moses (Hazard
78), Oscar, Mata (Ake 90), Torres.
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Ferreira, Marin, Piazon.
Goal: Mata 38.
Ref: Jon Moss (W Yorkshire).
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Neither side dominated the opening 15
minutes, which saw both Rafael Benitez and Chris Hughton emerge from
their respective dugouts and bark orders from the touchline.
Norwich conceded possession a little
too readily in Chelsea's half during the early exchanges but the
Canaries were not punished by the visitors.
Chelsea only had two long-rang
efforts from David Luiz in the opening 25 minutes and both were fired
high and wide by the Brazilian.
The hosts were happy to let Chelsea
have possession around the halfway line with only captain Grant Holt,
recalled following a hamstring problem, remaining upfield for Hughton's
Chelsea were almost ahead after 30
minutes as Luiz robbed Wes Hoolahan of the ball before picking out Mata,
who shot into the side-netting when well placed.
Luiz was involved again moments later
as he squared the ball on the edge of the box to John Obi Mikel, whose
thundering drive rose just over Mark Bunn's crossbar.
The sustained spell of Chelsea
pressure eventually paid off and it was Mata who opened the goalscoring
in style. The Spain international cut in from the left before letting
fly with an effort from 25 yards that flew past Bunn.
Star man: The gifted Spaniard scored the only goal in a game of little quality
Closing the gap: Chelsea moved closer to Manchester City, who lost to Sunderland
Norwich winger Anthony Pilkington was
enjoying a battle with Cesar Azpilicueta and got the better of the
full-back on a number of occasions throughout the opening period.
The former Huddersfield man again
wriggled free of Azpilicueta just before the break but his cross into
the box was calmly dealt with by Ashley Cole as Chelsea held on to their
lead going into the interval.
A near-post corner at the start of
the second half almost doubled Chelsea's advantage as Oscar's set-piece
evaded everyone before Bunn reacted well to push the ball wide.
Resilient: Chelsea kept another clean sheet under Rafael Benitez
On a roll: Chelsea have won their last three games since returning from the Club World Cup in Japan
The Norwich goalkeeper was called
into action again a couple of minutes later as Azpilicueta's low cross
reached Victor Moses at the far post and the former Wigan winger forced
another smart save from Bunn.
Mata then tried to catch Bunn out
with a quickly-taken free-kick but was too far out to send the ball past
the ex-Blackburn stopper.
The weather conditions worsened during the second half and Norwich started to enjoy more of the ball in attacking positions.
Tight: There was no repeat of Chelsea's 8-0 win at the weekend as they edged past Norwich
Physical: It was a hard-fought encounter on Boxing Day at Carrow Road
They could still not force Chelsea
stand-in skipper Cech into a meaningful save but the movement of
Hoolahan and Holt started to cause problems.
Fernando Torres was struggling to get
involved in the game for Chelsea with Norwich defensive duo Sebastien
Bassong and Michael Turner handling him well.
It was Moses who again came close for
the visitors after Russell Martin missed a headed clearance and the
ball fell to the feet of the Nigeria international who fired a shot wide
of the post.
The travelling Chelsea contingent had
been singing the name of Frank Lampard for the majority of the game and
Benitez introduced the 34-year-old with 17 minutes remaining.
Blank: Fernando Torres wasn't on the score-sheet despite his recent form
Looking up: Rafa endured a tough start at Stamford Bridge but the Blues have won their last three league matches
Hughton gambled with a little over 10
minutes left on the clock as he brought on a second striker in Steve
Morison, with Pilkington making way.
The change did not have the desired effect as Norwich still could not muster any clearcut chances to take a point from the game.
Chelsea substitute Eden Hazard forced
another decent save from Bunn with only a couple of minutes remaining
after being found by a deft flick from Torres, before receiving a
caution moments later for a cynical clip of Martin's heels as the
Norwich full-back looked to counter.
The resulting free-kick was almost hooked into his own goal by Cole before Bassong headed the corner over Cech's bar.
Chelsea then managed to see out a shaky last few moments to secure a valuable win.