Mata gives Chelsea victory at Norwich
The win moves the Blues to within four points of second-placed Manchester City in the Barclays Premier League table but it was only a fantastic effort seven minutes from half-time that separated the two sides.
Mata, who scored his sixth goal in eight games with aplomb, also missed a good opportunity with the scoreline 0-0 while Norwich had decent spells of possession but were too blunted in attack to ever truly test Petr Cech.
Neither side dominated the opening 15 minutes, which saw both Rafael Benitez and Chris Hughton emerge from their respective dugouts and bark orders from the touchline.
Norwich conceded possession a little too readily in Chelsea’s half during the early exchanges but the Canaries were not punished by the visitors.
Chelsea only had two long-rang efforts from David Luiz in the opening 25 minutes and both were fired high and wide by the Brazilian.
The hosts were happy to let Chelsea have possession around the halfway line with only captain Grant Holt, recalled following a hamstring problem, remaining upfield for Hughton’s side.
Chelsea were almost ahead after 30 minutes as Luiz robbed Wes Hoolahan of the ball before picking out Mata, who shot into the side-netting when well placed.
Luiz was involved again moments later as he squared the ball on the edge of the box to John Obi Mikel, whose thundering drive rose just over Mark Bunn’s crossbar.
The sustained spell of Chelsea pressure eventually paid off and it was Mata who opened the goalscoring in style. The Spain international cut in from the left before letting fly with an effort from 25 yards that flew past Bunn.
Norwich winger Anthony Pilkington was enjoying a battle with Cesar Azpilicueta and got the better of the full-back on a number of occasions throughout the opening period.
The former Huddersfield man again wriggled free of Azpilicueta just before the break but his cross into the box was calmly dealt with by Ashley Cole as Chelsea held on to their lead going into the interval.
A near-post corner at the start of the second half almost doubled Chelsea’s advantage as Oscar’s set-piece evaded everyone before Bunn reacted well to push the ball wide.
The Norwich goalkeeper was called into action again a couple of minutes later as Azpilicueta’s low cross reached Victor Moses at the far post and the former Wigan winger forced another smart save from Bunn.
Mata then tried to catch Bunn out with a quickly-taken free-kick but was too far out to send the ball past the ex-Blackburn stopper.
The weather conditions worsened during the second half and Norwich started to enjoy more of the ball in attacking positions.
They could still not force Chelsea stand-in skipper Cech into a meaningful save but the movement of Hoolahan and Holt started to cause problems.
Fernando Torres was struggling to get involved in the game for Chelsea with Norwich defensive duo Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner handling him well.
It was Moses who again came close for the visitors after Russell Martin missed a headed clearance and the ball fell to the feet of the Nigeria international who fired a shot wide of the post.
The traveling Chelsea contingent had been singing the name of Frank Lampard for the majority of the game and Benitez introduced the 34-year-old with 17 minutes remaining.
Hughton gambled with a little over 10 minutes left on the clock as he brought on a second striker in Steve Morison, with Pilkington making way.
The change did not have the desired effect as Norwich still could not muster any clearcut chances to take a point from the game.
Chelsea substitute Eden Hazard forced another decent save from Bunn with only a couple of minutes remaining after being found by a deft flick from Torres, before receiving a caution moments later for a cynical clip of Martin’s heels as the Norwich full-back looked to counter.
The resulting free-kick was almost hooked into his own goal by Cole before Bassong headed the corner over Cech’s bar.
Chelsea then managed to see out a shaky last few moments to secure a valuable win.