IT TOOK a moment of individual brilliance from Juan Mata to beat a committed City side at Carrow Road on Boxing Day.
Mata smashed the ball home from just outside the area in the 38th minute for the game’s only goal – but City defended resolutely throughout the game and had a glorious chance to equalise at the death through Sebastien Bassong.
Bassong met a 90th-minute corner with a firm downwards header which bounced on the rain-sodden Carrow Road turf and then up on to the roof of the net when a less firm contact could easily have seen City level.
After the game City boss Chris Hughton told Canaries Player: "This Chelsea team has such great quality that you know that they are always going to create chances and we've restricted them to really minimum chances today. There was one bit of quality during the game and they got it and it won them the game - that's why they pay the vast amount of money that they do for the quality they've got.
"We were right in it, right to the end and I thought Seb's (Bassong) header was in I have to say. I think he had to generate a lot of power with his header and therefore that's why it bounced over the bar. But I certainly couldn't fault the efforts of the players today."
Before the game Hughton made two changes from the side which lost 2-1 at West Bromwich Albion before Christmas, with Russell Martin replacing the injured Steven Whittaker (hip) at right-back and Grant Holt making a welcome return from injury to start up front in place of Steve Morison.
Both sides started cautiously and the first chance of note didn’t arrive until the 9th minute, when Snodgrass had a shot charged down in the area and Tettey wildly mis-kicked the rebound.
Both sides were guilty of some wayward shooting, one effort from Luiz very nearly making it into the top tier of the Norwich and Peterborough Stand, much to the delight of the home fans.
Just before the half-hour mark Chelsea came close to breaking the deadlock as Luiz slid a good ball through to Mata only for the Spanish international to roll a low shot into the side-netting.
City were working hard to contain Chelsea but struggling to make any sort of attacking impact themselves and as the half progressed the Londoners began to dominate possession.
Their increased territorial advantage finally brought its reward in the 38th minute when they took the lead courtesy of a great strike from Mata, the Spaniard given too much time on the edge of the box and promptly firing an unstoppable shot from the edge of the box past Bunn.
Half-time: Norwich City 0, Chelsea 1
The second half was only three minutes old when Bunn was called into action, doing well to block Oscar’s corner at his near post.
But then there was a good ten-minute spell for City as they put together some decent attacks, Cahill forced to make a sliding block to cut out a useful cross from Snodgrass and Holt just offside as he raced on to a slide-rule pass into the box from Hoolahan.
In the 68th minute had a great chance to double the Londoners’ advantage but he drilled a shot narrowly wide of the post from 12 yards.
Rafa Benitez made a substitution in the 73rd minute, veteran England midfielder Frank Lampard replacing Mikel.
Five minutes later City switched to a 4-4-2 formation as Steve Morison replaced Pilkington while Chelsea brought on Hazard for Moses.
Bradley Johnson picked up a yellow card for diving a couple of minutes later and then made way for Howson in City’s next change.
With three minutes left Bunn raced off his line to make a brave block to keep out an angled attempt from Eden Hazard for the visitors.
And in their last throw of the dice Elliott Bennett entered the fray for the Canaries, replacing Hoolahan.
In a frantic finale City pressure in injury time forced Cole to blaze a clearance behind that could easily have finished up in his own net – and from the resulting corner Bassong’s downwards header bounced over the bar.
Final score: Norwich City 0, Chelsea 1
Norwich City: Bunn, Martin, Johnson (Howson 80), Bassong, Turner, Snodgrass, Holt (c), Pilkington (Morison 78), Hoolahan (E.Bennett 87), Garrido, Tettey. Subs not used: Rudd, Jackson, Barnett, R.Bennett.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cole, Luiz, Torres, Mata (Ake 90), Oscar, Mikel (Lampard 73), Moses (Hazard 78), Cahill, Azpilicueta. Subs not used: Turnbull, Ferreira, Marin, Piazon.