Relief at last for Graham Potter. Kai Havertz’s second half header eased the immediate pressure on the manager as Chelsea halted their recent slide by registering only a second win in ten league games.
It was far from straight-forward, even against Crystal Palace side enduring their own poor run of form, and there was a sense of desperation to Chelsea’s defending in the final minutes of the game.
But they held on, sparing Potter from another inquest into a painful defeat.
Earlier in the day the Blues completed the signing of Mykhailo Mudryk from Shakhtar Donetsk for a fee rising to £88.5 million with the Ukraine international signing an eight-and-a-half year contract.
Mudryk, 22, who had appeared destined to join Arsenal before Chelsea’s intervention on Saturday, was introduced to the crowd at half-time and watched from the stand as another new signing, Benoit Badiashile, made his debut at centre-back as Potter continued his attempt to find an answer to his side’s alarming dip in form.
The manager made five changes to the line-up that had lost at Fulham on Thursday including replacements for the suspended Joao Felix and Denis Zakaria who became the latest member of Potter’s squad to be sidelined with injury.
There was certainly a disjointed look at times to the reshaped line-up during the first half and it took three excellent saves – first from Tyrick Mitchell and then Michael Olise and Jeff Schlupp – from the not always convincing Kepa to deny Crystal Palace an opening goal.
But there were also promising signs for Potter’s side who dominated long periods of possession and created enough opportunities of their own to have reached the interval ahead. Had Havertz managed to direct a good headed chance on target to Lewis Hall been more precise with a low shot from a tight angle, Chelsea would have reached the interval ahead.
Yet while there was no shortage of commitment from the Blues, the home side lacked the quality to repeatedly unpick a determined Palace defence.
The start of the second half provided a reminder both of Palace’s threat and Chelsea’s attacking weaknesses. Kepa was once again called into action, this time to beat away a powerful shot by Wilf Zaha before Chelsea countered only for Havertz to place his shot to close to Vicente Guaita.
All the signs were this would be yet another frustrating afternoon for Potter and his players and the manager introduced Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to freshen up his attack. The switch was immediately rewarded when Havertz got above Cheik Doucoure to head home from Ziyech’s cross after the Morocco international worked a short corner routine with Conor Gallagher.