By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) -Timo Werner ended his goal drought in timely fashion to earn Chelsea a crucial 1-0 victory over West Ham United in the battle for a top-four finish in the Premier League on Saturday.
The German had gone 14 games without scoring for club and country but produced a clinical finish shortly before halftime as Chelsea took the points at the London Stadium.
Victory enabled Thomas Tuchel's fourth-placed side to open up a three-point gap over West Ham for whom two successive defeats have dented their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. Both have five games remaining.
West Ham's Lukasz Fabianski was the busier of the two goalkeepers and West Ham struggled to open up their visitors as Chelsea kept a 16th clean sheet in 21 matches under Tuchel.
The hosts showed plenty of endeavour but their cause was not helped when Fabian Balbuena was harshly sent off late on.
Balbuena accidentally made contact with Ben Chilwell with his follow through after making a clearance and looked bemused when referee Chris Kavanagh took out his red card after being instructed by VAR to check a pitch-side monitor.
It was an incident that left West Ham manager David Moyes looking furious, although Chelsea's win was merited.
"The boys are very, very happy in the dressing room, it was a great performance, an amazing result and I think a well-deserved win for us," said Tuchel, whose side travel to face Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final next week.
Moyes accepted that his side had been below their best but said Balbuena's sending off had denied his side any late momentum.
"I think it was a decision made by somebody who has never played the game," Moyes said. "I don't know where Fabian Balbuena is supposed to plant his foot.
"He has kicked through the ball and there is no malice. It was a rubbish decision."
Werner's last goal for Chelsea came on Feb. 15 against Newcastle United and his only other goal this year was against Morecambe in the FA Cup in January.
His first season at Chelsea has been a struggle but in the 43rd minute the 25-year-old showed the kind of precision that earned him such a big reputation at RB Leipzig.
Chelsea had looked the more threatening with Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic testing Fabianski but it was just as West Ham were getting a foothold into the game that Chelsea struck.
Pulisic played in Chilwell down the left and the England full back's cut back picked out Werner in front of goal to stroke home first-time past Fabianski.
Werner should have made it 2-0 early in the second half when Fabianski saved from Mount and the ball fell to the striker who prodded the ball wide.
"The second chance I have to score, but I have to come back slowly," Werner said. "One goal is enough. Two goals might be too much for the beginning!"
Chelsea remained rock solid at the back and West Ham struggled to get in-form forward Jesse Lingard into the game.
Lingard did come closest to scoring for the hosts when his looping effort landed just wide.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Christian Radnedge)