Frank Lampard's career is in its 18th year, his legs a little heavier than they once were and the opportunities eked out amid squad rotation, but his scriptwriters remain as sharp as ever. The veteran had been twitching nervously on the brink of a major landmark for a month, the flurry of goals that had propelled Chelsea through the winter suddenly choked. Then Eden Hazard clipped over a mouth-watering centre, West Ham's backline dawdled and the midfielder rose to convert his double-century.
There was a quick glance back over his shoulder at the linesman on the far side, the lack of a flag prompting a flash of relief, before the realisation dawned his timing was finally in. Those snarling among the away support would not agree, but it felt appropriate that goal No200 for Chelsea should be registered against the club who have loved to loathe Lampard ever since that acrimonious move down the District Line almost 12 years ago. It was not lost on the midfielder, who jogged across in front of the West Ham support to celebrate with his substitute and captain, John Terry, on the touchline.
The 34-year-old is a phenomenon, his tally remarkable for a midfielder who had arrived with little goalscoring pedigree of note. Bobby Tambling's club record of 202 will surely be eclipsed in the logjam of fixtures to come this term. "It is one of my best days," he admitted. "Obviously, winning the Champions League and championships are the best, but personally getting 200 goals for the club … I never thought I would touch that so I am pleased to get it. Everyone keeps talking about the goalscoring record, I would rather people kept quiet."
That much is wishful thinking. A record of 200 goals in 595 appearances demands praise, even if the away fans' reaction, perhaps predictably, was a hail of missiles in the player's direction. "When you score your 200th goal you don't think about where you go, you just celebrate," said Rafael Benítez, whose players were subsequently advised by the fourth official to warm up towards the other end of the pitch. "Afterwards, he realised it would be better to be in another part [of the ground]. But this is a fantastic achievement for any player, and particularly a midfielder."
The player himself stressed that "winning games" remains the priority, with a timely victory re-establishing Chelsea in third above Tottenham Hotspur and, even more critically, keeping fifth-placed Arsenal five points away. In truth, Hazard and Juan Mata illuminated the occasion, the pair irrepressible as the hosts purred and West Ham struggled to contain them throughout.
This would have been a rout had Jussi Jaaskelainen not reproduced his eye-catching form from the recent defeat to Spurs, the goalkeeper magnificent in keeping West Ham in vague contention even if the visitors' own forward line rarely threatened to make their own mark. Hazard's second, rasped into the corner just after the break once he had eased away from Winston Reid, effectively killed off the contest and was just reward for another outstanding display.
The Belgian was prolific in French football and might be so again in England, with this a season of adjustment to the Premier League. He could, of course, prove to be Lampard's immediate successor given there is still no new contract offer on the table for the veteran, and the last month has confirmed Hazard's jaw-dropping quality. The only frustration here was that neither the blur of attacking midfielders nor the lone forward, Demba Ba, could ensure the scoreline was a truer reflection of home dominance. The Senegalese, prolific to the tune of seven goals in 12 league games during a brief spell as a West Ham player two seasons ago, departed perplexed that he had not added heavily to his personal tally with Chelsea.
He had skewed his first opportunity horribly wide having been liberated by Lampard's clever pass, with Jaaskelainen twice denying him from point-blank range just before the break. Indecision and uncertainty had taken over before the end, the decision-making all muddled, with the Fernando Torres bug clearly biting. Others in the ranks boast more bite at present, even if they benefited from West Ham's gumminess. Andy Carroll had a goal disallowed for a push on David Luiz and Petr Cech denied Carlton Cole, but that was as close as they came.
"It was a tough afternoon, but sometimes you can't defend against the quality the opposition have," said Sam Allardyce. His own team's pursuit of 39 points and safety is on-going. For Lampard, his double century complete, a club record edges ever closer.
Man of the match Eden Hazard (Chelsea)