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Conte defends Costa after striker extends goalless run

6:13 am AEST 9/4/17
Antonio Conte
The Spain international has failed to score in four successive Premier League games for the first time, but he has the backing of his boss

Antonio Conte insisted Diego Costa is still an important player for Chelsea after the striker's goalless run extended to four matches as the Premier League leaders won 3-1 at Bournemouth on Saturday.

Costa's shot deflected in off Bournemouth defender Adam Smith to give his side the lead, but the strike was credited as an own goal, with Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso also on target as Chelsea restored their seven-point cushion from second-placed Tottenham.

The Spain international has never before gone four Premier League games without a goal, but Conte highlighted the overall contribution of the striker, who has 17 league goals to his name this season.

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"I think that the first goal, Diego provoked it and he played a good game and fought a lot for the team with good commitment," Conte told BT Sport.

"He fought a lot for the team and he is important - it is important for the team that we won against a strong team. Now it is important to rest and restart and prepare for the game against Manchester United."

Spurs had cut Chelsea's lead to four points with a 4-0 home win over Watford earlier in the day, but Conte shrugged off the pressure Mauricio Pochettino's men are putting on his side.

"It was a good pressure, I prefer to call it this, but we managed the situation very well," Conte said. "We started the game very well with great attention and focus.

"Then we conceded and lost a bit of confidence but then we managed the game and scored another with Marcos Alonso.

"I think Marcos is playing a really good season and it is great for him to show his quality with the free-kick. I'm happy for him but above all for the team."

Bournemouth's first defeat in six matches leaves Eddie Howe's side in 15th place in the Premier League, but the Englishman felt his side competed with the champions-elect. 

"I thought it was a tight game, we were well in it," Howe told BBC Sport. "It doesn't help going 2-0 down and it took a worldie free-kick to win the game.

"I have to compliment Chelsea, they're an outstanding team and their system works very well for them. But I compliment my boys as well because they played very well. In the end Chelsea were too strong.

"I'm not feeling anything other than we need to win some more games. What we've historically done is always try to win and that's the same aim no matter how many points you have and how many games are left."