HULL CITY’S winless run was extended to nine games on an afternoon that saw Tom Huddlestone ruled out for the crucial Christmas period.
Goals from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa sealed an eighth win in as many home games for leaders Chelsea.
But it was the 60th minute dismissal of Huddlestone that could have serious consequences for the Tigers, who remain rooted in the bottom three of the Premier League.
After an awful studs-up challenge on Filipe Luis that rightly brought a red card, the former Spurs man will miss home games against Swansea City and Leicester City plus the Boxing Day trip to Sunderland.
It is a worrying prospect and one that took the gloss off what until then had been a decent battling performance from the Yorkshire club.
City had fallen behind inside seven minutes, their defence undone far too easily as Oscar’s flighted cross was headed in by the unmarked Eden Hazard.
A hamstring injury that forced Michael Dawson out of the action then saw the Yorkshire club’s afternoon take another turn for the worse.
Credit to Hull, though, for failing to cave in as, first, Jake Livermore shot just wide and then Sone Aluko did the same after being found by Nikica Jelavic.
Curtis Davies also had a shot blocked after meeting an Aluko corner, not long after an effort by Diego Costa at the other end had suffered a similar fate thanks to the bravery of Alex Bruce.
Bruce also came to Hull’s rescue on 37 minutes when he cleared just ahead of the waiting Costa after the former Leeds defender had initially got in a muddle with Davies.
Just before the interval, Jelavic fired into the defensive wall after Gary Cahill had clattered Aluko to the floor with a mis-timed challenge that earned the defender a yellow card.
Cahill should have then seen red in the second half after being penalised for a blatant dive, an offence that earned Willian and Costa a yellow card apiece from referee Chris Foy.
In this instance, however, Foy opted not to book Cahill - handing the Blues a major let-off.
On the hour, Huddlestone was not quite so fortunate after an awful studs-up challenge on Filipe Luis earned the midfielder a straight red card.
More pressing for City was being a man down and the home side duly took advantage on 68 minutes as Costa tapped in after a sublime pass wrong-footed Andrew Robertson, David Meyler and Robbie Brady.
Afterwards, Steve Bruce accused Cahill of taking a tumble “like something out of Swan Lake” and claimed he should have been sent off.
“I’ve just been asked if Cahill should have gone and the simple answer is yes, especially given the referee has already booked two people for simulation or diving,” Bruce said.
“Listen, if it is Oscar, Hazard or Willian, they are running at that pace that the smallest connection can bring them over. There is no question about that.
“This is England’s centre-half, by the way. For me, it could have been a red card in his first challenge on (Sone) Aluko. That was reckless and dangerous.
“So when you come, you expect the referee to do their job. It is difficult enough to come here and, consequently, Tom Huddlestone, who is the most laid back person, is frustrated with the decisions against him and produced a horror challenge which deserves a red card.
“But when you come to places like this, then you need them to make the right call.
“When you see it back and look at the replays, there’s no justification for it because we all know what he tried to do: he has tried to win the penalty by taking off thinking (David) Meyler was going to challenge him.
“In Latin countries, it’s applauded if you gain a penalty or free-kick. But the reason why people enjoy the Barclays Premier League, for me, is because of the honesty and integrity of it.
“We need to stop this horrible simulation which, unfortunately, has crept in. The referees have got a hard job but that wasn’t a hard decision. Not from 12 yards, not from where I was.”
Costa and Willian were both booked for simulation at Stamford Bridge, where Bruce conceded the fact Cahill was a home-grown centre-back perhaps swayed the referee it was not a dive.
That, he says, should not be the case, especially given the tumble is “like something out of Swan Lake - it’s that blatant”.
“If I say what I really, genuinely want to say, then I’ll be hauled up in front of the Premier League again and I’m going to have to pay the 10 grand or whatever it was,” said Bruce, also aggrieved by what he felt was a foul in the build-up to Hazard’s opener.
“I think I paid £20-odd (thousand) last year so, before Christmas, I will make sure I button my lips and say p*** all about it and keep my money in my pocket.”
Chelsea counterpart Jose Mourinho claimed not to have had a good enough view of the supposed incidents of simulation, yet still launched a staunch defence of Cahill.
“I don’t make (anything of) it because I didn’t see it on TV and I was very far away,” he said.
“But I had this question before, from your colleagues on TV and radio, and I don’t believe Cahill dived.
“And if you tell me I am wrong because he dived, something happened. Or they blocked his run. Or they touched. Or he lost balance.
“But that big, honest guy, I don’t believe he dived in the opposition’s box.”
That incident, along with several others, eclipsed what was a solid, if unspectacular win for the Blues.
“We didn’t play especially well, but we played well enough for everybody connected with Chelsea - supporters, players, staff - to be calm, because the game was always under control,” Mourinho said.
“We never felt really the game in risk, but I have to agree: we had already this season many special performances and today we just had moments of good football, moments of happiness and creativity and dynamism. Just moments. Not for 90 minutes.”