It needed just Demba Ba’s goal to separate these two sides, as Chelsea and West Brom fought out a cagey encounter, as the pressure on Rafael Benitez eased.
The last two Chelsea managers have both fallen victim of Roman’s wielding axe after playing out a drab performance against West Brom, and whilst certainly Roberto Di Matteo was not a face the Chelsea fans wanted to see leave, it could have been third time lucky for the supporters as a loss would most likely have signalled the end of Benitez at Chelsea.
After his tantrum post-Middlesbrough mid-week, it was difficult to see the former Liverpool boss manage another Chelsea match. Given the hierarchy’s record with firing managers at the faintest of wrongdoing, it beggared belief that nothing came into fruition. In truth, it would have been Chelsea’s next problem finding The Interim Interim One had Benitez left.
But that dilemma is now for another day. Ba’s first-half strike was as easy as it gets for the Senegalese man, but he still proves to be of more use than his rival Fernando Torres, who provides no competition yet still seems to get more game-time.
Before a ball had even been kicked, the home supporters came with great voice. Benitez had asked for a “fantastic atmosphere” and the home crowd were certainly loud — but to his dismay, singing for his exit. The deafening chants of Jose Mourinho’s name presents the contrast of management. Even the away team’s manager got a better reception off the Chelsea faithful than their own boss, something of a rarity.
And that hatred for Benitez threatened to take over the game, were it not for early chances to settle Chelsea in their stride.
Demba Ba’s pass to Oscar was delightful, and the Brazilian’s punt was saved by Ben Foster.
Juan Mata, playing his 100th Chelsea game this afternoon, dragged his shot wide as the Blues were showing intent from the off.
That did not mean Petr Cech could lose focus, however, and the goalkeeper had to tip over a strong Albion free-kick. The Czech Republic goalkeeper held the joint-top record for highest clean sheets for a single club in the Premier League with 137 alongside David Seaman, and it was clear his desire to go one better.
A goal did come in the 27th minute, however. Frank Lampard, who today moves equal with John Hollins as Chelsea’s third highest appearance maker with 592 games, combined with Oscar, and the youngster sent a ball to his compatriot Luiz at the far post. The defender’s header back across goal found Ba, who tapped home.
Chelsea needed to assert their authority and their lead but Oscar and Mata’s attempt were stopped by last-ditch defending.
At the other end, Shane Long, who has scored two goals in last three games against Chelsea, was proving to be a handful, but the defensive combination of Ivanovic and Luiz stood firm.
Lampard’s desire to get to a double-century of goals was stopped by a Joe Hart hand last week, and his attempt to reach the milestone this week was thwarted not once, not twice, but three times.
First, the veteran’s strike into the net was cancelled out as Juan Mata was offside in the build-up. The second effort was stopped by a sturdy West Brom wall, before the third opportunity was turned down when Eden Hazard went down in the box. Kevin Friend was the man in charge, and deemed Olsson stood his ground.
The Blues have won their last seven games at home against the Baggies in the Barclays Premier League, and it was looking to be another.
Moses came on for Hazard as Benitez sensed fresh legs were necessary, before the needless removal of Ba for Torres.
West Brom made their own change with Peter Odemwingie doing his best to make amends from his transfer deadline-day fiasco, but there was no denying Cech, who was heroic in flinging himself from the Nigerian’s free-kick.
This was Chelsea’s 800th Premier League match, the record standing at won 416, drew 206, lost 178, scored 1338, conceded 771 and points 1451. How many Premier League matches Benitez will be in charge of remains to be seen.