ReutersLondon, United KingdomAug 16, 2016, 05.24 AM (IST)
Animated Chelsea manager Antonio Conte launched his Premier League career with a battling 2-1 victory over West Ham United thanks to Eden Hazard`s penalty and a last-gasp Diego Costa strike in an intense London derby on Monday.
Fiery Spain striker Costa, lucky to be on the pitch after a wild challenge on keeper Adrian, thumped a low shot into the net in the 89th minute, sending Conte jumping for joy and embracing his coaching staff and several fans behind the dugout.
"I think the team played a good game with a great intensity and spirit," said Conte. "It is important to find the right spirit and intensity, we know we can improve and we must improve a lot, but today I am pleased for my players."
Conte, 47, has worked his new squad hard in the run-up to the season, with double training sessions.
"I saw a lot of good things, lots of things they were working on in the last days," he said. "We have been working for only one month... I know we can improve through the work. But today it was important to get the victory."
West Ham`s James Collins had threatened to spoil the Italian`s debut with a fine half-volleyed goal in the 78th.
Hazard had given the home side a deserved lead straight after halftime, smashing the ball into the roof of the net from the penalty spot after Michail Antonio needlessly tripped up Chelsea`s Spanish full back Cesar Azpilicueta in the area.
For Conte, who took Italy to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, the match at Stamford Bridge offered a taste of the physical side of English football and his charges looked ready for it.
The contest had started at a furious pace, although first-night nerves sometimes got in the way of quality football.
Chelsea midfielder N`Golo Kante, signed from last season`s surprise champions Leicester City, got an early yellow card for bringing down striker Andy Carroll in the fourth minute.
But there were also touches of brilliance from the 2015 league champions, who plunged down the table last season losing manager Jose Mourinho to the sack in the process.
Monday`s Chelsea side looked leaner, fitter and more motivated than under Mourinho at the start of last season.
The lively Hazard proved a constant irritation to the east Londoners, who were missing several players through injury, and the Belgian international won the man-of-the-match award.
In the second half Bilic`s Hammers side found it tough to string more than two passes together.
"Let`s be honest. Apart from the first 15 minutes and the time we equalised, they were better than us," Bilic added.
The home team did suffer a scare when the bearded Costa, looking like a swashbuckling pirate, threw himself into a studs up challenge with Adrian and was lucky not to get a red card.
"I didn’t see the situation," said Conte. "I saw him put the pressure on the keeper and then try to stop. In my opinion I think the referee took the right decision."
Costa`s escape was certainly lucky for Chelsea after the Spaniard received a pass from new signing Michy Batshuayi and fired a low shot into the net for the late winner.