Mauricio Pochettino praised match-winner Noni Madueke’s determination to prove his Chelsea worth after he came off the bench to score a late penalty in his side’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.
Roy Hodgson’s side looked like they had done enough to earn a deserved point as the game ticked into its final moments, until the result turned after a clumsy challenge made by Eberechi Eze, leaving a leg out on the edge of the box for Madueke to tumble over.
A pitch-side VAR review was required but it seemed a straightforward call for referee Michael Salisbury, who awarded a penalty from which the substitute Madueke, who had previously made only seven league appearances under Pochettino, coolly stroked home the winner.
Earlier, Michael Olise had scored a goal worthy of a claiming a draw, lashing home on the half-volley from Jordan Ayew’s pinpoint ball on the stroke of half-time.
Mykhailo Mudryk’s 13th-minute strike, his fourth of the season and second in eight days, had given Chelsea a lead for which they were good value, and the Ukrainian could have extended it had he not shot straight at Dean Henderson from Nicolas Jackson’s clever backheel.
Pochettino’s side looked more dangerous in attack than in recent weeks, finally turning possession into clear chances, and afterwards the manager pointed towards the impact of Madueke in turning frustration at a lack of game time into affirmative action.
“He (Madueke) played free,” said the manager. “He did what we needed in this moment. I liked it because he showed he was upset with me, disappointed with me because he didn’t play too much. (He thought) ‘Now I’m going to show the coach he can trust in me’.
“We are not a charity, we are a football club. We need to perform. We are here to try and help the players to perform.
“Sometimes we need to be tough. We need to show the reality. Sometimes we need to put (the players) in front of the mirror and say ‘come on, that is not the player that is going to perform’.
“We have an amazing group, but they need to realise that to compete at Chelsea is not (the same) as to compete at another club.
“It’s about winning, about lifting trophies and making history. It’s about respecting the history of the club.
“They need to show me that I can trust them. The mentality is really important. You can not only play with you quality. You have to have quality, but if you don’t have the right mentality and approach every single day, it’s difficult to perform.”
Chelsea have now won three in a row in all competitions at home, though that run has been cut with four consecutive defeats on the road.
Victory meant the team climbed back into the top half of the table, however, there remains a 14-point gap to the Champions League places.
Palace boss Roy Hodgson reflected on a game that slipped away from his side after what he deemed a controversial late penalty decision.
“I’ve got to be honest, I have no real interest in discussing referees and VAR,” he said.
“I thought we played very well. It should have got us three points, but it’s got us nothing.
“Am I frightened to death about being three points ahead of the relegation zone? No. What bothers me is 38 games.
“I’m sad at the moment because I think I should be sitting here with at least one point more.”