2016 began with defeat for the Eagles as they suffered a loss to an impressive-looking Chelsea side as the hosts’ six game undefeated streak was ended.
Goals from Oscar, Willian and Diego Costa clinched the first win of Guus Hiddink’s second stint in charge of the Blues, and it was to be a frustrating afternoon for Alan Pardew and his side who failed to score for the third successive match.
The game, which was played in teaming rain for the majority of the 90 minutes, marked Wilfried Zaha’s 200th appearance in a Palace shirt and he nearly capped his big day off with the opening goal just six minutes in. The ball bounced around the edge of the Chelsea box after an Eagles throw-in, and it eventually came the academy product who dragged his shot wide of the post.
Hiddink was forced into an early alteration when Eden Hazard limped off injured after 15 minutes, and his side's problems in the opening stages continued as they struggled to get to grips with the hosts and the deteriorating conditions as Palace enjoyed plenty of possession in the Blues’ half.
It nearly gave them the lead when Jason Puncheon whipped a brilliant ball into the box which narrowly evaded the on-rushing Scott Dann who’d found himself in an advanced position, but it found Fraizer Campbell at the back post who could only steer the ball well wide of the target.
But despite all their pressure, it was the visitors who edged ahead with their first real attack on 29 minutes. John Obi Mikel found Cesc Fabregas in the middle of the park and he slid a neat ball through the Palace defence which caused Damien Delaney to slip and allow Costa in. The Spanish international had time to look up and square for Oscar who simply tapped the ball in from just outside the six yard box.
Soon after Cesar Azpilicueta had a good chance to double the lead when he broke the offside trap to sneak in undetected behind the Palace backline, but Wayne Hennessey was equal to his powerful left-footed shot and beat it away.
After the break the chances kept coming Chelsea’s way and Kurt Zouma should have netted when Willian drove a free-kick towards the back post and with Hennessey stranded the French defender could only head the ball wide and over, but Zaha was looking the most likely to get a goal for the hosts and he had a chance just before the hour mark when he was found by Campbell but he couldn’t get any power on his effort as it dribbled towards Courtois.
But a minute later Hiddink’s side went up the other end and gave themselves a commanding lead. Willian started and finished the move as he found Fabregas who played it to Oscar, and when the ball ran loose following a challenge on the Brazilian, Willian hammered an unstoppable first-time strike into the top corner of Hennessey’s goal from 30 yards to make it 2-0.
And Chelsea added a third goal to wrap up the win six minutes later when Costa got himself on the scoresheet. Willian again caused problems on the right and hit a low shot towards goal which Hennessey could only push into the path of the advancing Blues striker, who beat Joel Ward to the ball and score his sixth league goal of the season.
There was one bright moment for the home fans when Jonny Williams came on with 10 minutes to go as he made his first Premier League appearance since September 2014, but only some last ditch sliding tackles from Delaney and Dann prevented the visitors from adding to their tally late on, thwarting Costa and Oscar respectively before the former wildly blazed a volley into the Whitehorse Lane end, but he would have to settle for just the one goal for his afternoon’s work.
Palace: Hennessey, Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souare, Jedinak (Ledley 67), McArthur, Puncheon, Zaha, Lee (J. Williams 80), Campbell (Chamakh 67). Subs not used: McCarthy, Kelly, Mutch, Sako.
Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Terry, Ivanovic, Matic, Fabregas, Willian, Oscar (Matic 87), Hazard (Pedro 15), Costa. Subs not used: Begovic, Baba, Ramires, Matic, Loftus-Cheek, Traore.