x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Hull defiance ended by Drogba

Didier Drogba's dramatic and fortunate injury-time winner gave Chelsea a 2-1 victory over Hull on yesterday's opening day of the season.

LONDON // Didier Drogba's dramatic and fortunate injury-time winner gave Chelsea a 2-1 victory over Hull on yesterday's opening day of the season, but Carlo Ancelotti was left in no doubt about how difficult the Premier League will be to win. Ancelotti, taking charge of his first league match, saw his side go 1-0 down against unfancied Hull and it was only Drogba's determination, power and a fair slice of luck that saved Chelsea from an embarrassing result.

It was Drogba who equalised Stephen Hunt's opener with a ferocious free-kick before half-time and the Ivorian who, when the match looked to be heading for a frustrating draw, saw his miss-hit cross sail over goalkeeper Boaz Myhill's head and into the net. It was the kind of fortune that helps to win titles, but Ancelotti knows his team will have to improve on this kind of display. Chelsea are title favourites, the theory being that although they have failed to spend big this summer their ability to hang on to all of their key players - something Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool were unable to do - would act in their favour. A case of moving ahead just by standing still.

But on the evidence of this match Chelsea may still need to spend to bolster their challenge because they cannot always rely on Drogba to win games on his own. Hull manager Phil Brown admitted he was "bitterly disappointed" not to earn a point after his game plan appeared to work for 91 minutes. Ancelotti was relieved to get Hull out of the way - Luiz-Felipe Scolari was sacked last season after drawing with Hull.

Ancelotti said: "I know that Hull was the last game for Scolari so I spoke very clearly to my players before the match. For sure I was worried and for sure we'll have to improve because we didn't always play well in the match, we made some mistakes. But this is normal. We didn't lose the idea to play and in the end we deserved to win." The difference, of course, was Drogba and the season was only 65 seconds old when striker showed his intentions, firing wide after Essien cut the ball back following a lung-busting run down the right.

But by midway through the half there were enough warning signs to suggest Ancelotti's first game would have its complications. His favoured midfield "diamond" looked anything but polished and on the rare occasion when Hull attacked the Chelsea defence looked uncomfortable. The powerful George Boateng forced Petr Cech into action with a shot from a corner after 26 minutes and then two minutes later the visitors were ahead. This time Boateng's shot took a deflection off Mikel and fell perfectly for Hull's new signing Hunt to score from close range to a chorus of boos.

The Stamford Bridge faithful have never forgiven Hunt for an unfortunate challenge during his Reading days that left Cech with a broken skull and so the goal had extra poignancy. But thankfully for Ancelotti it was not the winner. Chelsea responded with a stunning 20-yard free-kick from Drogba after 37 minutes that left goalkeeper Myhill with no chance. Ancelotti must have been relieved and although his seated celebration gave little away his decision to bring on Michael Ballack for Mikel at half-time highlighted his concerns.

Later in the half, as the game became congested, he tweaked the system again by bringing on Deco for Florent Malouda, a move which only served to confuse the situation. Chelsea, who had gone remarkably close in the 46th minute when Drogba squared to Nicolas Anelka only for the Frenchman to shoot straight at Myhill from close range, ran out of ideas long before the end and Hull looked set to earn a deserved point.

But then Drogba produced his party piece. "I was trying to cross," the striker admitted. "But today we showed we will try till the end of the game. We were lucky to score, but the desire is always there." Only time will tell if desire is enough, but the early indications are that Chelsea will need something more. sports@thenational.ae