Guus Hiddink started his second reign in charge of Chelsea with a draw as Oscar missed a late penalty to clinch all three points for the Blues.
The popular Dutchman, in an interim post until the end of the season similar to his previous stint, watched as Costa broke the deadlock before seeing his side being pegged back by two Watford goals. Costa equalised but Oscar should not have squandered the penalty opportunity with 10 minutes left of play.
It leaves Chelsea in 15th position and just two points above the relegation zone with a tricky game on Monday against fellow strugglers Manchester United, but with the half-way point of the season nearly upon us, Chelsea must pick up points and quickly.
After an instant resurgence in the Chelsea players’ performance in the immediate game after Mourinho’s sacking against Sunderland, this was a performance sinking back to the lows seen earlier this season. Chelsea were slow and lethargic, treating this as a training ground exercise to burn off those Christmas dinner calories. The reality should have been a side fighting for points but no-one would have noticed.
Guus Hiddink was introduced to mild applause as Costa’s name still continued to be subject to some boos as The Chelsea Chronicle witnessed from the East Stand on a windy Boxing Day afternoon.
Whilst the Blues did start positivity, it was again with no purpose. Hazard was dropped to the bench and it was between Pedro and Willian to pass the ball sideways, with Costa continuing the hide and Ivanovic and Azpilicueta providing their services with weak crosses.
After the fast start at Sunderland, a similar start was expected. Pedro’s cross to Costa was good but the header by Costa was not. Corner after corner by Willian was good, but the headers by Ivanovic were not. Willian’s free-kick opportunity was similarly wasted.
But, at least the game was played in the right end of the field from a Chelsea fan’s perspective, who were eerily quiet on the Jose Mourinho chants this time.
Watford’s first chance was the game’s best, as so often expected from Chelsea of late, but the unmarked Ighalo volleyed wide, before the in-form Nigerian squandered another chance from a Watford set-piece.
Chelsea had to be on their toes, but it was Chelsea who scored the first goal.
From one of their own corners, Terry rose tallest to send the long ball into the thick of things and Costa was on his toes to spin and rifle past Gomes. His celebration was one of anger and seemingly making a point to his doubters, but perhaps the Spaniard should concentrate more on his football.
Chelsea could not hold onto the lead and were pegged back with three minutes left of the first half. Matic decided to handle the ball inside the box from a Watford corner, and Deeney sent Courtois the wrong way.
Mikel came on in the second half to add some sturdiness to the Chelsea spine as Fabregas had sent one too many passes astray in the opening 45 minutes, but Mikel could not stop his compatriot Ighalo from edging Watford’s noses in front.
The Watford striker’s strike was looking to be a comfortable parry for Courtois but a big deflection off Cahill sent the ball flying into Courtois’ goal. It summed up Chelsea’s luck this season.
Chelsea needed to hit back and fortunately they did this quickly. Costa made the first run seemingly of the season as Willian’s excellent through-ball found the Spaniard, whose first touch was good and second found the back of the net.
Chelsea had half an hour to score a winner but never looked likely.
Oscar had the opportunity from the spot after substitute Hazard was bundled over in the box. You would have thought Hazard, Chelsea’s main penalty taker and so low on form, would have used this opportunity to score his first league goal of the season, or Costa to secure his hat-trick, but instead it went to the weak Oscar, who slipped and sent the ball to Row Z.
It was another two points dropped. For all the talk about Chelsea’s abysmal start to the season being Mourinho’s fault or the fault of his relationship with his players. Maybe it is just the players.
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Man of the Match
DIEGO COSTA: Scored two goals, at last. Was instinctive by poaching the game’s first and made an atypically excellent run to latch onto Willian’s through-ball for his second. He still needs to contribute more and with less of the controversy, and still struggles to score a goal outside of the penalty area. 7/10
Hiddink was honest that Chelsea deserved no more than a point: “At the end it is a fair result. I think we could have made a little bit more, we had some chances and it was a pity Oscar slipped for the penalty. Diego Costa, when he is focused on what he is good at, he has his profit from his play.”
Flores was pleased with his side’s endeavour: “I think we had the possibility to win but Chelsea played really well. They pushed us a lot and were probably closer to the win than us. We defended well, we fought a lot in the 90 minutes, and for us this is a very important point.”