Where do Chelsea go from here? Twenty points off the top spot. In serious danger of not qualifying for the Champions League. A depressed manager who confirms there is an unhappy dressing room. Players less motivated to play than a Sunday League team, perish the thought of the millions they earn every year. It is difficult to know whether there is more pressure on AVB to win, or on Roman Abramovich to sack him. Either way, at such a critical stage in the season, sacking will not help: it’s a catch-22 situation. The win from last week could not be repeated. Back to losing ways. Had Daniel Sturridge buried chances even Torres could have scored, perhaps the outlook would have been different. But McAuley’s poke home nine minutes from the end continued Roy Hodgson’s winning run, and condemned AVB to just 3 league wins in the last 12.
The start would have pleased AVB however. Attempts by Mata and Sturridge ought to have set the tone, but it was Petr Cech, making his 350th appearance for the club, who was the busier keeper, tested by a James Morrison shot. Still Chelsea pushed on, wanting an early lead, and Gary Cahill nearly scored again after his England outing mid-week, but his shot was headed clear.
Essien showed us his magic that Chelsea had been missing earlier in the season, having a go from 25 yards, but Foster made instinctive reflex saves.
Then came really the chance of the game. Drogba muscled his way past on the half-way line and fed a lovely ball to Sturridge. The England international composed himself but his shot was horribly dragged wide: a bad miss which Chelsea were to pay for.
The half-time team-talk appeared to do little to Chelsea’s play, in spite of AVB’s sticky situation. The impetus was lacking, but when Steven Reid fell down injured, it gave Chelsea space. Mata’s pass found Sturridge again, but he failed to learn from last previous one-on-one encounter with Foster, faking a dummy which tricked the striker himself. Foster was alert and cleared.
AVB had seen enough of Sturridge’s misses, but Malouda was perhaps not an alternative to give Chelsea fans belief. Fortune and Mulumbu both hit shots which Cech had to palm away, whilst Brunt had another great chance, only for it to go wide.
Sensing the urgency, Essien went off for Torres. No-one could doubt a striker was needed, but to sacrifice a holding midfielder could backfire tremendously. And that’s what it duly did. Malouda and Ramires were meant to be anchoring, but with The Bison off, our midfield fell to pieces.
West Brom had a corner and despite a posse of defenders lingering around, Ridgewell’s shot was diverted in from point-blank range by McAuley.
Then AVB fell apart also. Ivanovic went off, Meireles came on. The right-back place was non-existent, indicative of the desperation to salvage even a point. But that was not to be. Chelsea succumbed – again. Fans were calling for him to be sacked – again. Cue a mass of articles about unrest – again.