The first goal of Willian's Chelsea career could yet turn out to be the -finest.
A sumptuous strike, laced with the inside of his left boot, finally broke the obduracy of Norwich City as Jose Mourinho's players claimed their maiden away victory of the season with a devastating late salvo.
For all the elegance of the winner, this was a reprieve for Chelsea. After Oscar's sharp opener had threatened a thrashing, the home side somehow fashioned a path back into this engrossing contest, Anthony Pilkington's equaliser proving a just reward for a period of sustained pressure. But once Eden Hazard rounded off a lightning counterattack, the stage was left for the 30 million pounds man from Sao Paulo to apply his memorable flourish.
One could quibble that Alex Tettey ought to have been more alert with his attempted clearance as Hazard bore down on goal, or that John Ruddy should have saved the Belgian's low shot, but ultimately Mourinho executed a masterstroke as his two substitutes combined to deliver the two decisive goals.
The victory could not have made the happiest viewing for England manager Roy Hodgson, with his squad due to assemble at St George's Park today, as Ashley Cole had to leave the pitch with a rib injury. But the zeal with which a certain Portuguese gentleman celebrated here left no doubt as to how much this victory meant to Mourinho. Following the 4-0 dispatch of Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League, Chelsea are at last beginning to resemble the sum of their extravagantly assembled parts.
The manager could be forgiven for having expected a more restful afternoon, after Oscar's fourth-minute breakthrough. As -Mourinho reflected with a smile on Demba Ba missing a straightforward chance early in the second half: "He has to score the goal, easy. Two-nil, go home, no heart attack.
After that, you don't score, you leave the door open for them." Or, as he expressed it in his ever-eccentric English: "I have feelings. I smell things. And when that easy goal was missed, I had a smell." His senses had not deserted him, as Chelsea let slip all the momentum generated by their fine early goal. All it required was a direct ball over the top to Ba, who controlled it with the neatest of touches to tee up the onrushing Oscar, making sure to place his shot comfortably beyond Ruddy and into the far corner.
Gradually, however, Tettey and Leroy Fer began to carve out greater possession, and Petr Cech needed the quickest of reactions to tip Jonny Howson's snap shot over the bar. Ba miscued a chance early in the second half to drag his shot fractionally wide, and Mourinho's body language on the touchline suggested he did indeed detect an ominous odour. Norwich, just as he forecast, pounced for their equaliser. Martin Olsson hared down the left to supply a fine cross for Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who rose at the far post to head back across goal for Pilkington to nudge the ball past Cech.
Pilkington was culpable, however, in the unravelling that ensued. His poorly-taken corner was the cue for Chelsea to hit back with interest, David Luiz and Willian combining beautifully for Hazard to apply the coup de grace. Despite the Belgian's cultured finish, it had arisen from an end-to-end catalogue of Norwich errors.
Manager Chris Hughton, increasingly under pressure, said: "It's our corner, and you can look at it as a process from there. We needed to clear the ball, be stronger. That's why Chelsea spun it around. But this is no time to apportion blame." Norwich slipped into the bottom three last night as Hughton faced up to a familiar arduous struggle to safeguard his team's Premier League status. In mitigation, Norwich's signings over the summer added up to a good deal less than Chelsea's game-changing substitutes: a fearsome trium-virate of Willian, Hazard and Samuel Eto'o.
Mourinho said: "The situation had become difficult at 1-1. We all knew that a point here would be a bad result for us, but I think the team coped well with the pressure. We could gamble and risk a bit to try and bring something different to the game to see if Norwich could cope."
They could not. If they had been unsettled by their litany of lapses in the build-up to Hazard's goal, then Willian's intervention, the most delightful curler from 20 yards out, poleaxed them to extinguish any hope of recovery. The profound contentment could not have been written any more starkly across Mourinho's face.
Another stumble here, and those lingering anxieties about the wisdom of his Chelsea comeback would have resurfaced. Instead, he marched into the quieter times of international week looking quite the most relieved man in Norfolk.