By Robert O'Connor, PA
Chelsea’s long goalless run at Stamford Bridge was ended by a second-half header from Wesley Fofana that earned them a 1-0 win over Leeds and brought badly needed respite for Graham Potter.
The defender nodded in Ben Chilwell’s corner eight minutes after half-time to bring a deserved first victory in six Premier League games and help lift a mood that had grown increasingly hostile towards Potter.
The hosts dominated in the first half, going close through Kai Havertz and Joao Felix, who hit the crossbar. It was a different Chelsea to the one so meek in defeats to Tottenham and here against Southampton.
+3! 💪#CheLee pic.twitter.com/9pFDzHCHyP
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) March 4, 2023
Leeds rallied after falling behind, but anything less than three points would have been crushing for Potter, whose team’s seven-week wait for a home win ended here.
Chelsea were aiming to avoid falling into the Premier League’s bottom half, and the threat of such fresh ignominy seemed to drive the team in the direction of new energy and invention.
The first-half chances came at a quickfire rate. First Chilwell, collecting the ball on the left touchline, swept a cross into the heart of Leeds’ penalty area which was inches away from the head of the diving Havertz.
The German had been the last Chelsea player to score on this ground back on 15th January. The determination to end that drought was readily apparent
The next opportunity fell to Fofana, thumping a header just over from Chilwell’s neat near-post corner. Later, Leeds would be made to rue not heeding how effective that combination could be from a dead ball.
For all Chelsea’s struggles, the team had not lost their fans’ support. When Chilwell floored Crysencio Summerville at the other end as the Leeds forward looked to nip around him and to break into the box, Stamford Bridge roared its approval.
They were on their feet again when Havertz sprinted in behind Leeds’ defence from Raheem Sterling’s pass and looked certain to score, only for Illan Meslier to spread himself magnificently to deny Chelsea’s makeshift number nine.
Next it was Felix’s turn to go agonisingly close, his first-time strike from Raheem Sterling’s pull-back smacking the underside of the crossbar, before Chilwell volleyed wide from six yards out. Leeds were holding on by their fingertips.
The concern for Chelsea was that the game would go the way of so many recent performances, a bright beginning eventually giving way to frustration and inertia as the chances came and went. They could, perhaps should, have been out of sight by half-time. Instead the teams went in level.
The goal, Chelsea’s first at Stamford Bridge for 49 days, sent a wave of relief surging around the ground, and it was the excellent Chilwell who made it. His corner was floated over, and as the bodies rose Fofana got the better Weston McKennie with a fine leap and powered his header beyond Meslier.
Chelsea had not held a lead since early February, and their composure in sight of victory was tested moments later. Luke Ayling fired in a driven cross from the right that was met first-time by the unmarked Georginio Rutter six-yards out.
His effort was bound for the bottom corner and would have sent Chelsea tumbling back to square one, had Kalidou Koulibaly not been in the right place at the right time to deflect it into Kepa Arrizabalaga’s grateful clutch.
All Chelsea’s good work was nearly undone in the most unlikely fashion in stoppage time, Meslier charging forward for a corner and finding himself unmarked, but the goalkeeper’s header lacked the power to beat Arrizabalaga.