Hull 2 Chelsea 3
Jose Mourinho had warned his side about being complacent as they close in on their first Premier League title since 2010 but, on this evidence, his words had fallen on deaf ears.
Chelsea took their chance to move six points clear of defending Champions Manchester City with a game in hand, but only just.
Goals from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa in the first nine minutes had Mourinho’s men cruising against Hull.
But, uncharacteristically, the visitors switched off and allowed Steve Bruce’s team back into the game with two goals in 74 seconds through Ahmed Elmohamady and Abel Hernandez.
Costa was forced off with a hamstring injury in the 75th minute and it was his replacement, Loic Remy, who came to Chelsea’s rescue, shooting through the legs of Allan McGregor just 92 seconds after coming off the bench.
Mourinho believes it is now a matter of when, not if, Chelsea secure the title.
“The title race should be over,” Mourinho said. “The title race in normal conditions, Chelsea should have eight, 10, 12 points more than we have, title race over.
“But football is unpredictable and the reality is we have a six-point lead which is our best situation for the whole season.
“In this moment we have a six-point lead, one match in hand, that can help us have a bigger distance with eight matches to go to our opponents.
“They can make 24 points, if they can make 24 points for us it is a question of mathematics to see how much we need
“I’m not pretty sure, I’m pretty confident. I believe in my players, I believe that we can do it.”
Hazard’s opener came in the first two minutes, the Belgian arrowing his shot form 20 yards into the corner after Costa held off Alex Bruce to lay the ball off.
It looked a long way back for Hull when Costa curled in his 19th goal of the season after Michael Dawson allowed the Spain striker too much time to shoot.
But a tactical switch by Bruce gave Hull a foothold in the game and a cross from the impressive Andrew Robertson was met by Elmohamady to peg back the visitors.
The next attack brought Hull’s equaliser, as Thibaut Courtois’ heavy touch from Branislav Ivanovic’s back-pass allowed Hernandez to slide in and force the ball into the unguarded net.
Courtois atoned for his error with three dazzling saves in quick succession to deny Elmohamady, Jake Livermore and Gaston Ramirez before Chelsea nicked it.
Fabregas’ pass relased Willian and his low cross found Remy, whose shot was firm enough to trickle over the line despite the efforts of McGregor.
It was his sixth goal of the season and Mourinho praised Remy for his attitude as 12 of his 15 league appearances have come as a substitute.
“Probably he deserves more that what I give him,” Mourinho said.
Costa’s injury, which has nagged at him since last season, is of some concern to Chelsea. But Mourinho hopes the 15-day international break will give him time to recover.
“For Diego (the break) is good, because imagine we play three matches in one week, that’s three matches he doesn’t play,” Mourinho said.
“I don’t think it will need an operation. Our doctor is against surgeries, against knives. We are all in favour of conservative work and collective work between medical department and fitness technical staff. This is the direction we believe.”
While Chelsea’s cruise towards the Premier League crown feels inevitable, Hull’s attention lies at the other end of the table.
They remain three points clear of the relegation zone after the bottom six sides all suffered defeats.
Despite a fiendish run-in, Bruce remains bullish about their survival prospects.
“I’m sure we’ve got enough and I’m convinced if we play like that, we’re good enough to stay in this division,” Bruce said.
“We had an awful couple of months in winter time but just lately we’ve seen a bit of resilience come back into them.
“That’s as good a display from us for a long time.
“We gave Chelsea a hell of a run for their money and on another day it could have gone our way.”
Hull City (3-5-2): McGregor 5; Bruce 7, Dawson 6, McShane 7; Elmohamady 7, Meyler 7 (Quinn, 81), Ramirez 8 (Aluko, 81), Robertson 7 (Brady, 80); N’Doye 8, Hernandez 7.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Courtois 7; Ivanovic 6, Terry 6, Cahill 6, Luis 6; Matic 6; Willian 7 (Zouma, 80), Fabregas 7, Ramires 6 (Oscar, 61, 6), Hazard 8; Costa 7 (Remy, 75, 7).
Referee: M Oliver 7.
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