West Ham manager Slaven Bilic believed Chelsea were fortunate to still have Diego Costa on the field after the striker escaped punishment for a foul on goalkeeper Adrian before scoring a late winner at Stamford Bridge.
Costa was free to rifle home in the 89th minute to give Antonio Conte three points in his first match in charge of Chelsea, despite fouling Adrian with a late tackle midway through the second half when he was already on a yellow card.
“I don’t think it was reckless, it was not deliberate,” said Bilic. “But nine times out of 10 when you see that challenge on a goalkeeper it ends up in a booking. Unfortunately this was the 10th time.”
New manager Conte, taking charge at Stamford Bridge for the first time, believed referee Anthony Taylor made the right decision in allowing Costa to play on and praised his players’ spirit in victory.
“I was delighted with the performance,” said the Italian manager. “I saw a lot of good things and the right intensity from my players.
“Diego tried to put pressure on Adrian and tried to stop before making contact. Diego puts passion in everything he does but in this situation I think the referee took the right decision.”
It wasn’t just Costa who displayed renewed passion for Chelsea. Conte’s team crackled into life in their season opener, bringing a pace and purpose to their play often missing last season.
The live wire manager set an example on the touchline, ceaselessly gesticulating, bellowing instructions and wildly celebrating goals and last ditch tackles alike.
Chelsea were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty before the break after Oscar, deployed in central midfield alongside debutant N’Golo Kante and ahead of Cesc Fabregas, appeared to be pushed over by Winston Reid in the area.
It was not long after the restart when the Brazilian midfielder was again bundled over in the box — this time by Michail Antonio — and referee Taylor pointed for a penalty which Hazard dutifully smashed the home down the centre of goal.
West Ham pulled level on 76 minutes through the unlikely figure of James Collins. The Welsh centre-back sent a half volley screaming past the Chelsea keeper after his header from a corner bounced off Enner Valencia and Cesar Azipilcueta and back into his path.
It appeared enough to win his side a hard earned point to take back to East London but Costa, who had survived a second booking, latched onto a knock down from substitute Michy Batshuayi and from the outside of the area fired low and hard past Adrian into the bottom left corner of the goal to earn his new manager a debut win.