Albion throw another manager to the wolves

West Bromwich Albion 1 Chelsea 0

Stamford Bridge

Napoli was meant to be the make-or-break match for Andre Villas-Boas. In the end, he didn't make it past West Bromwich.

In acting before tomorrow's FA Cup fifth-round replay at Birmingham City, Roman Abramovich decided that the Premier League's youngest manager couldn't be trusted even with the two games leading up to a Champions League second leg.

That uphill task – Chelsea trail Napoli 3-1 – looked every one of nine days away following the further darkening of the Stamford Bridge landscape and the Russian owner responded in the ruthless manner to which Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlo Ancelotti know he is accustomed.

Defeat against a deserving West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns did more than leave Chelsea three points adrift of the Premier League fourth place that is seen as their owner's absolute minimum requirement. Just as damagingly, it underlined that Villas-Boas had lost the fight to keep his bigger hitters onside.

This wasn't the 2009-10 Double winners going under with all guns blazing, as Albion's goal bore a charmed existence. It was justice over the 90 minutes; it was a conquest, fair and square, for a united force against a disparate one.

I stood a few feet from the 34-year-old Portuguese as he conducted the final press conference of his tortuous tenure. In the crowded press room he was dignified, polite and contrite. He described his side's performance as "very, very bad" but made sure he was seen to be taking responsibility for it. He probably knew his time was up.

If he had believed the victory over Bolton Wanderers had represented the turning of a significant corner, Saturday's events exposed such thinking as fanciful. Frank Lampard, the final scorer seven days earlier, was barely visible until he side-footed wide in stoppage time from the sort of opportunity he has devoured for a decade and a half. Didier Drogba had no impact in the penalty area. Fernando Torres was restricted to another cameo of utter irrelevance. Others were culpable too, Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata, in particular, having afternoons to forget.

Only Ashley Cole was exempted from blame by his manager – although that was harsh on the goalkeeper, Petr Cech – and if this was the players pulling behind their boss, Chelsea supporters must be dreading the time when some of them demonstrate they really aren't that bothered.

Had Chelsea been on a winning streak rather than on a run of three victories in 12 Premier League games, stories such as those of questionable high jinks at the training ground, misguided comments from David Luiz and a rift between Villas-Boas and Lampard would have been peripheral irritations. At a time of crisis, they became another stick with which to beat the manager. His sacking appeared inevitable and yesterday just became the chosen day.

Cole left his side with 10 men for the final seconds after being helped off with an ankle injury that makes him a likely absentee for the start of Roberto Di Matteo's caretaker reign. And here's an irony... the Italian was deemed, late last winter, not to be good enough for Albion. The warm reception he was given on his first return showed gratitude for the promotion he had accomplished with some style the season before.

The West Bromwich chairman, Jeremy Peace, had noted the availability of Roy Hodgson – licking his wounds after coming under a harsh spotlight at Liverpool – and he ousted Di Matteo before there was anything like the debate that has surrounded Villas-Boas's position for weeks.

Albion's third successive victory, sealed by Gareth McAuley's stretching finish eight minutes from time, emphasised how strongly Hodgson has re-emerged; strongly enough for him to be viewed as an interesting outsider in the search for Fabio Capello's successor as England manager.

One or two more results like this against leading clubs will open Football Association eyes, Albion having previously lost 15 successive top-flight games against Chelsea going back 33 years. Villas-Boas was still in nappies when Danny Blanchflower's side were beaten by an Alistair Brown goal here in 1979.

The second half was an especially sad epitaph to the AVB reign. Albion carried by far the greater attacking threat and might have scored more than one goal three weekends on from their 5-1 Black Country derby victory that cost Mick McCarthy his job at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

"Andre has lots to fall back on," Hodgson said on Saturday teatime. "He's a Uefa champion. I'm pretty sure he would not have lost confidence in his ability to do the job. The good times soften you and make you think the job is easy. The hard times make you realise it is a profession which demands a lot of people. It demands a lot of leadership qualities from people and this is when those qualities are going to be honed."

Match facts



Scorers: West Bromwich Albion McAuley 82.

Substitutes: West Bromwich Tamas 6 (Reid, 57), Brunt 7 (Thomas, 64), Long (Fortune, 84). Chelsea Malouda 6 (Sturridge, 64), Torres (Essien, 76), Meireles (Ivanovic, 84).

Booked: West Bromwich Ridgewell, Andrews, Brunt. Chelsea Cole.

Man of the match Mulumbu. Match rating 7/10.

Possession: West Bromwich 49% Chelsea 51%.

Attempts on target: West Bromwich 7 Chelsea 2.

Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire). Attendance 24,838.

election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'