(Reuters) - BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION 1 CHELSEA 2
Chelsea consolidated fourth place in the Premier League with a 2-1 win at Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday that became harder work than had seemed likely in the first half.
Having won 4-0 at the Amex Stadium last season, they were on course for a repeat after taking a 2-0 lead at the interval.
Eden Hazard set up the first goal for Pedro after 17 minutes and scored the second himself before halftime following a defensive error.
Brighton came back into contention through Solly March’s goal midway through the second half and Lewis Dunk went close to an equaliser.
The home side have not beaten Chelsea in any competition since 1933 but they stayed 13th in the table, nine points clear of the bottom three places.
Chelsea moved three points clear of London rivals Arsenal, who were beaten at Southampton.
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri felt Hazard, whose goal was his first since October, could have done even better, and will do when he recovers full fitness.
“I think that Hazard could have played better because his level is a very high level,” said Sarri.
“He can do more. But I think after the two injuries, he lost the physical condition.
“Now he’s improving. In one or two matches he’ll be back at the top.
“I think that we played a good match, we could have won by more goals.
Hazard, who had been outstanding when scoring twice in the 4-0 January win, made the opening goal with his ninth assist of the season.
Regaining possession after his shot was saved, he played a perfect pass to give Pedro a tap-in.
Brighton contributed to their own downfall 12 minutes from halftime with a poor clearance by Leon Balogun.
Willian intercepted and from his own half sent Hazard through to beat goalkeeper Mat Ryan.
From a position of apparent comfort, Chelsea came under pressure after Marcos Alonso had crashed a shot against the post.
The home team revived, halving their deficit when Bernardo headed back across goal for March to score, but Chelsea held on for an important win.
“We knew we needed to score a third goal, but we didn’t and conceded,” Hazard said. “You feel the pressure, but we managed the game well.
“We want to be top of the league at the end of the season. We know Man City and Liverpool are good teams and we don’t want the gap to be big.”
Brighton’s manager Chris Hughton said: “They had two chances in the first half and scored two goals. We started the game well but you can’t give them the leg up by going behind.
“But I can’t fault the effort our players put in.”
Reporting by Steve Tongue; Editing by Toby Davis and Ian Chadband