TWO SWEET strikes in the space of six second-half minutes from Chelsea helped extend Hull City’s winless Premier League streak to five matches as the visitors maintained their Indian sign over the Tigers.
The Blues, beaten just once in their last 31 matches against Hull, shrugged off a low-key first half to get their act together with a thoroughly dominant second period, which yielded eye-catching goals from Willian and Diego Costa.
Hull struggled to contain the rampant Blues on the restart, with the only salvation being that their gruelling run against most of the top-flight’s big-hitters is now over and that they did not cope another big beating.
Willian got the ball rolling with a lovely curler just after the hour mark and an almost identical effort from Costa, after Nemanja Matic’s initial shot was blocked, sealed the points.
Hull made three changes to the side who were well beaten at Anfield seven days ago, with Markus Henriksen and Dieumerci Mbokani handed full debuts, with Abel Hernandez surprisingly dropping down to the bench.
The other change saw David Meyler step in at right-back for the suspended Ahmed Elmohamady.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte made two significant alterations to his starting line-up after the 3-0 derby mauling at Arsenal, with Branislav Ivanovic dropped, as widely expected, and Cesc Fabregas also demoted to the bench - with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses handed starts in a new 3-4-3 formation.
It was a half which failed to sparkle from a visiting perspective, despite seeing plenty of the ball, with Hull defending competently and showing sporadic threat going forward.
Indeed, it was the Tigers who went closest to scoring on two occasions, once early on in the piece and then moments before the interval.
Thibaut Courtois had to be alert to expertly make a one-handed save to turn over an early free-kick from Robert Snodgrass, which was destined for goal after taking a sizeable deflection off Costa.
Then, in stoppage time, a piledriver from distance from Ryan Mason was beaten away by Courtois.
In between, Chelsea enjoyed plenty of territory, but lacked a cutting edge with dangermen Eden Hazard, Willian and Costa largely kept in check, with the Londoners failing to produce a shot on target in the entire first period.
Chelsea, maybe after some cajoling interval words from Conte, stepped it up on the restart and their best moment thus far arrived on 48 minutes when a trademark weaving run from Hazard ended with the gifted Belgian firing a well-struck stinging shot which was tipped over adeptly by the hitherto under-employed David Marshall.
It represented a belated warning to Hull, who were not exactly aiding their cause by giving the ball away cheaply on several occasions at the start of the second period.
One such occasion almost yielded a Chelsea opener in the 57th minute, only for some fine last-ditch defending from Jake Livermore to save the day.
Hull lost possession and N’Golo Kante threaded a defence-splitting pass to Costa, who rounded the advancing David Marshall before firing towards goal from a narrow angle with Livermore making a remarkable block to divert the Spaniard’s effort against the post, with Kante somehow blazing the follow-up wildly over.
The respite wasn’t long for Hull, who were not so lucky a few minutes later.
The Tigers again gave the ball away in midfield and Chelsea broke with intent with Costa’s bullocking run ending in him supplying Willian, who cut inside and fired home a sublime curler with Marshall afforded absolutely no chance on 61 minutes.
Chelsea went for the jugular, with Marshall soon turning away a drilled low shot from Costa as the Londoners sought to kill the game with a second.
The next to threaten was Nemanja Matic, whose header from Willian’s corner was thankfully straight at Marshall.
The Tigers were palpably struggling to cope and it was no surprise when Chelsea added a second midway through the half.
Matic powered forward in splendid isolation and saw his shot blocked by Curtis Davies with the loose ball falling invitingly to Costa, who effortlessly curled home a shot past Marshall, with his strike and technique baring remarkable similarities to Willian’s effort six minutes earlier.
The strike from Costa - who found the net in both league games against the Tigers in 2014-15 - ended the game as a contest with damage limitation being the order of the day for Hull.
A half-penalty shout fell on deaf ears after Willian went down in the box under the challenge on Davies.
A late long-ranger from substitute Tom Huddlestone, comfortably fielded by Courtois, represented Hull’s only attacking incursion in the second half, with Chelsea pretty much in complete control.
They almost grabbed a third with Pedro steering the ball just wide form close range following Alonso’s cross.
Hull boss Mike Phelan said he will use the international break to continue discussions about taking on the permanent job at the KCOM Stadium.
Phelan has been close to agreeing a deal and insisted there is “no panic” about his future despite the speculation continuing for longer than he would like.
Phelan said: “My future will take care of itself - I’m not in a position of panic or worrying too much about it.
“The talks I’ve had have been very, very good but then once people sleep on things they tend to change overnight and it was just a case of not being particularly happy with the uncertainty of the deal.
“I stressed that, so moving on we’ll have another cake and a coffee and we’ll discuss it.”
Phelan added that he will take encouragement with the way his side contained Chelsea for the first period before the gulf in quality finally told after the break.
He said: “I was encouraged because in the first half we took Chelsea to certain limits and we created a few chances, but at this level when you get the chances against teams of this quality you have to take them.
“I felt we were the architects of our own demise - we gave the ball away very cheaply and our decision-making wasn’t great, and we suffered the consequences.”
Hull City: Marshall; Meyler, Davies, Livermore, Robertson; Snodgrass, Henriksen (Hernandez 72), Mason, Clucas (Huddlestone 81), Diomande (Maloney 63); Mbokani. Substitutes unused: Jakupovic, Maguire, Weir, Keane.
Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses (Pedro 85), Kante, Matic, Alonso; Willian (Chalobah 89), Costa, Hazard (Oscar 81). Substitutes unused: Begovic, Ivanovic, Fabregas, Batshuayi.
Referee: A Taylor (Cheshire).
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