Cruelty comes in many forms – in the form of a savage rake down the leg of a goalkeeper and in the form of an 88th minute goal by a striker who shouldn’t have been on the pitch.
Diego Costa broke West Ham hearts – and nearly Adrian’s leg – with a typically violent and disruptive performance by Chelsea who saw their new manager Antonio Conte perform an opera of celebrations in front of a frothing Stamford Bridge crowd when the winning goal went in.
Despite the cruelty of the timing – and the scorer who had racked up a pile of potential bookings – it was a fair result. West Ham had shown some enterprise but the frustration displayed by Andy Carroll, the relative quiet of Mark Noble, the foul by Winston Reid that led to a penalty and the removal of outplayed defender Michail Antonio early on were symptomatic of game that was never in their control.
One shot on target, one goal. A flattering return.
Normally it’s West Ham manager Slaven Bilic who is the most animated and agitated on the touchline but in a game in which his side barely made a mark, he was demoted to a few gesticulations and substitutions as new £20million signing Andre Ayew limped off with a worrying thigh injury.
The first 10 minutes had promised much with West Ham’s early start to the competitive season reaping dividends but it wasn’t long before man of the match Eden Hazard began to pull the strings.
The only real surprise was the West Ham goal – the scorer and the manner in which it was scored. Defender James Collins, fresh from Euro 2016 triumphs with Wales, nailed one through a sea of legs on the volley to give the east Londoners the hope – until the 88th minute – of a point in their first Premier League game. That would have been the jackpot.
New signing Arthur Masuaku made some deft touches suggesting he has technical skill as well as confidence and Dimitri Payet came off the bench to play a small cameo but he was too late to reverse the tide – although he gave West Ham a new momentum for a crucial spell.
“Apart from the first 15 minutes until we equalised, they were much better than us,” said Slaven Bilic afterwards.
“They were better on the ball, in pressing and much more aggressive than us. They had the individual class of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Willian.
“We came back into the game. We played well after 1-1, but we made the mistake in the middle of the park. We gave the ball away and conceded a cheap goal.”
Goalscorer James Collins – dubbed the “ginger Pele” by the noisy West Ham crowd – told the club’s website : “It was tough. I don’t think we played particularly well and didn’t deserve a win or maybe even a draw, but when you get to the 89th minute at 1-1, you should be hanging on to a point. We didn’t play as well as we could, but it would have been a great point.”
West Ham now head to Romania to play a first round Europa League play-off tie with Astra Giurgiu. As for Ayew, Bilic said: "We have to wait until tomorrow till the scan and found out how long it is going to be."