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DAVID MADDOCK: Conte smiled the smile of a manager who knows the title is won after Chelsea aced Everton test

Date Posted,April 29, 2017

If ever a scene summed up the story, then it was the sight of Antonio Conte demonically celebrating at Goodison Park.

He raced to Chelsea ’s ­delirious fans at the end of an exciting, pulsating 3-0 win over Everton and repeatedly punched the air, his face a mask of wild-eyed, ­demented joy.

They were the celebrations of a manager who knew his side — who have only Middlesbrough, West Brom, Watford and relegated Sunderland left to play now, three of them at Stamford Bridge — had just secured the title.

He knew it, his team knew it, his fans knew it, and we did too, after a quite outstanding performance from the Premier League leaders, who withstood everything a bold and sometimes brilliant home side threw at them.

Conte and the Chelsea staff go crazy as the third goal goes in… (Photo: Action Images via Reuters)
…then party on the pitch at full-time in front of their travelling fans (Photo: Action Images via Reuters)

For much of this game, ­Chelsea’s credentials as ­champions-elect were ­vigorously, violently tested by young opponents who offered so much hope to any ­Tottenham player brave enough to have tuned in as they waited to start their own win over Arsenal that again made the gap four points.

The home side had chances to blow the title race wide open. They had the belief too. But, in the end, they simply didn’t have the experience of their ­aristocratic rivals. Or perhaps that touch of class that marks out the truly elite.

It was Pedro who was blessed with it on an afternoon that proved such a remarkable ­advert for everything good about English football.

The former Barcelona forward has been affectionately called a ‘Spanish waiter’ ­because he delivers such appetising fare.

Well here, he as good as ­served up the title, his goal on 66 minutes was that important.

A fascinating, even match was in the balance for over an hour until Pedro’s goal… (Photo: AFP/Getty)
…setting Chelsea up to win the toughest game left on their fixture list… (Photo: Getty)
…and almost certainly ensure a second Premier League title in three years (Photo: AFP/Getty)

Until that point in this open, exhilarating game, the result was uncertain, the destination of the Premier League trophy still undecided.

With one delicious twist of the hips to plant his marker Phil Jagielka, one burst of pace to leave the England defender ­trailing, and then one ­audacious, vicious left-foot shot from 20 yards that screamed into the roof of the net, Pedro changed the course of this ­season.

It really did too — from that moment, the game was won,

Everton dissolving in the misery his goal brought, their will and their legs turned to jelly, as the visitors confirmed victory with late goals from skipper Gary Cahill and sub Willian.

It was Pedro who always hinted at something more from his team, even as Everton ­ruffled and riled them. He and the exceptional Eden Hazard showed Chelsea’s best side, their incredible pace and ­movement on the break which is a potent weapon.

After Pedro made the breakthrough, captain Cahill added a second goal… (Photo: PA Wire)
…that ended the match as a contest with 10 minutes to go (Photo: Getty)

For two thirds of the game, Jagielka and Ashley Williams somehow resisted the threat, and the young Everton midfield – led by the talented Tom Davies – countered it. But the sheer relentlessness of the visiting front line eventually wore them down and won the game.

It could have been so ­different had the Toffees feasted on some of the sweet treats their attack created.

In particular, Romelu Lukaku’s muscular presence unsettled the visiting backline, although he flashed wide two chances.

Youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin hit a post early, Lukaku had the rebound blocked, and Enner Valencia, in the second half, could justifiably have had a penalty shout, given he was pulled back in the box by Cesar Azpilicueta.

That made this contest much tenser than the final scoreline suggested, but Pedro’s one ­moment of brilliance changed everything.

Willian put the icing on the cake in the 87th minute… (Photo: Reuters)
…finishing after fine work by Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas… (Photo: Getty)
…for a 3-0 final score that will have the champagne on ice back in west London (Photo: AFP/Getty)

It was, as Everton boss ­Ronald Koeman suggested, the true difference between a good team and a better one.

Given a lead, and given the space to play afterwards, Chelsea ­confirmed that with a second goal when Hazard’s cheeky free-kick was stopped by keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, but only turned into the path of the onrushing ­Cahill.

The third, just before the end, confirmed the inevitable.

Costa showed his sublime side with a fine ball in to sub Fabregas, who flicked it to the onrushing Willian to convert.

On a weekend of ­heavyweight contests, Conte and his team punched the air with the ­conviction of winners who know they have earned the title belt.

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