Graham Potter praised the impact of Wesley Fofana after his second-half header earned Chelsea a much-needed 1-0 win over Leeds to bring respite for the manager.
The defender was making his first start since the knee injury he sustained against AC Milan in the Champions League in October, and was brought into the side with Thiago Silva and Reece James ruled out.
The Brazilian Silva, one of Potter’s most influential leaders, is expected to be out for around six weeks after being forced off during last Sunday’s defeat to Tottenham.
Potter, who saw his side win for the first time in six matches against Leeds, pointed to Fofana’s potential to lead by example in Silva’s absence following his £75million transfer from Leicester in the summer.
Chelsea have struggled for cohesion both in defence and attack during their recent slump, but against Leeds Fofana’s fine display summed up an improved performance across the board from the team.
“We’ve missed Wesley,” said Potter. “It was the Milan game at home when he had his injury, that’s a long time ago.
“He brings something different, his physicality, he defends big spaces, he lets you defend a little bit higher up the pitch because he’s got the pace and physicality to recover.
“He can attack the ball well. He’s a young player, he’s adapting to Chelsea. He’s got the personality.”
Chelsea dominated the first half and could have been two up by the break, Joao Felix hitting the bar and Kai Havertz missing after going through one-on-one with Illan Meslier in the Leeds goal.
In the second half the game became more stretched, with the hosts fortunate not to lose their lead when Kalidou Koulibaly blocked from Georginio Rutter when he stabbed at goal from Luke Ayling’s cross.
It would have been cruel on Potter, who had waited 48 days to see his team score a goal at Stamford Bridge, and afterwards he assessed his players’ game management as the match wore on into a tense last 15 minutes.
“The boys are giving everything,” said Potter. “We’re playing against one of the best teams in the league in terms of intensity. If the game starts to become Hawaii football, up and down, it can be a challenge for us.
“But they stuck at it. The crowd were great, they want us to do well. They want us to win with more comfort, and we all want that. But the moment we’re in, it’s not so easy to do.
“We started the game well, created some opportunities. The goal was pleasing moment for us all. Probably the second half was a bit of ‘we’ve got something to lose’, which is where you’d expect us to be given the run we’ve had. It’s really good for the players to win a game and have that feeling.
“Its a nice three points, an important three points. It’s good for confidence, good for moral. The boys are suffering because they care, they do. Our supporters have been suffering as well.
“It’s been a tough period for us. The win gives us a chance to recover, and to prepare for a massive game (against Borussia Dortmund) on Tuesday night.
Leeds boss Javi Gracia, in charge for a second Premier League match, expressed his frustration that his team were unable to get something from after weathering Chelsea’s first-half pressure.
“I’m proud of them,” he said. “Of course we need to improve many things. But if we analyse the game, in the first 30 minutes, the opposition were better, they dominated the game and the possession.
“They created two clear chances, the crossbar and the save. After that moment, we grew up with the ball, with possession. We created some chances. In the second half it was similar.
“They had their moments. The goal came from a corner kick and we tried until the end. The team showed character and attitude. It was the difference today in my opinion, the corner kick. I can’t say anything else.”