Chelsea estended their lead at the top of the Premier League with a routine victory over West Ham United.
This was all relatively comfortable, a fifth successive victory in all competitions since Jos? Mourinho?s side suffered their only defeat of the campaign to date ? up at Newcastle in the first week of December ? inspired by Nemanja Matic?s power in the centre, with attack-minded team-mates buzzing off his presence.
John Terry and Diego Costa scored the goals which set Chelsea apart but only the excellence of West Ham?s goalkeeper, Adr?an, prevented a rout. His saves from Oscar and Matic late on, in particular, were outstanding.
Yet, 11 months on from that stalemate here, the frustration was Allardyce?s to endure this time round. The decision to rest Alex Song, presumably with the visit of his former club Arsenal to Upton Park on Sunday in mind, suggested the initiative had been rather surrendered from the start.
Without the security and reassurance offered by the Cameroonian there was a vulnerability to United?s play, with their own forays into enemy territory infrequent. Enner Valencia ran frantically and Andy Carroll attempted to unnerve Gary Cahill and Terry, but there was still a level of comfort to the home side?s approach. Chelsea should have taken the lead early, Oscar blazing over the bar from close-range having been allowed to scuttle unchecked on to Willian?s centre, and Cahill drew a fine instinctive save from Adr?an at his near post. But, while those misses provoked frustration on the home bench, Chelsea were still ahead before the break.
For all the skilful approach play offered up regularly by Eden Hazard ? terrorising Carl Jenkinson ? Oscar and Willian, their lead was eventually forged in less lavish fashion. West Ham were still wheezing at having repelled Hazard?s dart into the penalty area, a blur of neat exchanges with team-mates before James Collins poked the loose ball behind, when Cesc F?bregas? corner arrowed a ball into the box. Costa flicked the delivery goalwards and the Spain international, having lured Collins towards him, saw an unmarked Terry convert with ease. It was the centre-half?s 36th Premier League goal, and second in successive matches, and was celebrated with gusto in front of the away fans.
Adr?an did well to deny Matic and Hazard, while Costa and Willian were guilty of missed opportunities with the visitors unable to retain possession for any length of time. Song was eventually flung on just before the hour-mark, along with Diafra Sakho, though their salvage mission was soon feeling hopeless. When Cheikhou Kouyate lost possession in midfield, Hazard slipped Costa free. The Brazil-born forward teased space from Collins and Jenkinson before drilling a left-foot shot across Adr?an and into the far corner for a 13th league goal of term.
Belatedly the visitors did stir with the substitute, Morgan Amalfitano, drifting a header just wide and then dribbling into the area, squeezing space from Cahill and Terry, to clip over Thibaut Courtois and on to a post. Their challenge will resume against Arsenal and this defeat should not destabilise, even if it was an unwanted reminder of the quality above them. Chelsea, for now, remain resplendent and clear at the top.