Eden Hazard helps Chelsea to win over Hull as Tom Huddlestone sent off.
Jose Mourinho’s men edged their card-laden clash with Hull but it was not one of the impressive, dominant displays Chelsea fans have become accustomed to.
Last weekend’s surprise defeat in Newcastle ended talk of the Blues going through the season unbeaten, allowing resurgent Manchester City to close the gap at the top of the Premier League.
There were moments against Hull when it appeared this could be another bad day for Chelsea, but efforts from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa saw them triumph 2-0 against a side reduced to 10 men after a wild Tom Huddlestone challenge.
The struggling visitors could have no arguments with that decision, but referee Chris Foy is likely to come under scrutiny after handing out seven yellow cards in addition to that second-half red.
There could have been more cards had the officials spotted John Obi Mikel’s stamp on Sone Aluko in the build-up to Hazard’s early header, while Hull’s players were furious that Gary Cahill did not receive a second booking for what appeared to be a dive.
Chelsea struggled to create much without the suspended Cesc Fabregas but were given a helping hand when Huddlestone saw red, with Costa capitalising to end a four-game scoring drought in all competitions.
In fairness to Hull, their performance belied that of a side without a league win in eight matches – and they did well to recover from a bad start.
Less than seven minutes were on the clock when Chelsea controversially opened the scoring. A clumsy Mikel challenge on Aluko was missed and play continued, with the ball sprayed out wide to Oscar, whose cross was nodded home by Hazard.
It was a bad start which soon got worse for Hull as injury forced Steve Bruce to bring on son Alex in place of the injured Michael Dawson.
City responded fairly strongly considering those early blows, with Jake Livermore flashing a strike wide before Aluko missed the target in a move started by Mikel being dispossessed.
David Meyler joined team-mate Huddlestone in the referee’s notebook after a comical attempt to hook a corner back into play with a hand, before Willian was booked for taking a tumble as play became stretched.
Cahill became the fourth man to collect a yellow card after a late lunge which saw Aluko require treatment – epitomising a scrappy first half in which a blocked Costa effort was the best Chelsea could muster after pulling ahead.
The hosts’ sloppy performance continued in the second half, with Livermore firing just wide from the edge of the box after some intricate passing.
Mourinho’s side were creating few chances and perhaps that was behind Cahill’s apparent dive in the box.
Hull had expected Foy to hand the centre-back a second booking, only to be incensed when the referee pointed for a goal-kick.
The City players harangued the official, who was soon under pressure from Chelsea after Alex Bruce smashed through Willian. The substitute was only given a booking – the same punishment dished out to Costa for diving soon after, despite having clearly been caught by Huddlestone.
One decision Foy definitely got right, though, was the red card meted out to the former Tottenham midfielder with 30 minutes remaining, after a late lunge on Filipe Luis.
Shortly before becoming the latest player booked, Chester escaped calls for a penalty and Hazard struck a shot straight at Allan McGregor.
It was 2-0 in the 68th minute when Hazard followed a long run by playing a lovely one-two with Branislav Ivanovic, before putting through Costa to turn home.
Oscar and Cahill saw efforts blocked in quick succession, before Ivanovic fired over and a dangerous Willian cross evaded his team-mates. Substitute Andre Schurrle twice saw efforts blocked as the clock wound down.