Slaven Bilic has refused to criticise Diego Costa despite admitting the Chelsea striker should have been sent off before firing the winner against West Ham.
Costa’s last-gasp strike ensured Antonio Conte enjoyed a winning start to his Premier League career at Chelsea, with Eden Hazard also converting a penalty in the Blues’ 2-1 victory on Monday night.
Hammers boss Bilic felt “nine times out of 10” Costa would have been dismissed for his late challenge on Adrian, where he upended the visitors’ goalkeeper.
New Chelsea boss Conte insisted, however, that referee Anthony Taylor “took the right decision” not to hand Costa a second yellow card, after booking the 27-year-old for dissent in the first half.
“I saw that incident again, I don’t think it was reckless,” said Bilic of Costa’s challenge on Adrian.
“It was from my point of view not deliberate, but it was very late.
“Nine times out of 10 you see that challenge and get one (a yellow card) – unfortunately this was the 10th time.
“But really I am only disappointed with the late goal.
“I don’t know what he (the referee) wanted to do, but he didn’t give it and that’s it.”
Belgium playmaker Hazard’s bullet penalty handed Chelsea the early second-half lead, only for West Ham defender James Collins to blast a fine equaliser.
Just when the Hammers thought they had stolen a point, Costa popped up to slot home the winner, sending new manager Conte racing down the touchline and jumping to punch the air at Stamford Bridge.
Former Italy boss Conte leapt to Costa’s defence when it was suggested the forward should not have been on the pitch to net the winning goal.
“I must be honest Diego tried to put pressure on Adrian, and then before the contact he stopped,” said Conte.
“And then for this reason I think that the referee took the right decision.
“We know Diego is a passionate man, and he puts passion into everything he does.
“And he showed he will run for everything.
“But in this situation I must be honest I think that the referee took the right decision.”
Conte left Cesc Fabregas on the bench, but later insisted the Spain midfielder remains central to his plans.
“Cesc is Chelsea’s player, and I’m happy about him, with his attitude and behaviour,” said Conte.
“He must know from before that when we are a great team like Chelsea it can happen that I have to take a decision before the game to choose a starting XI.
“That can happen that Fabregas is not in the starting XI, but it can happen for all the players.
“It’s important to see always the right attitude. Because we must fight this season and it’s important to stay together in every situation.
“But then the shape can improve and can change all the situations.
“Now I took this decision but the next game I can change or not.
“When a coach takes this decision there is always a reason but I prefer to keep this to myself.
“But I repeat I don’t see any problem and I’m very happy to have these players, to train these players.”