Chelsea 1 West Bromwich Albion 0 match report: Narrow win leaves Rafael Benitez tense... but not past tense

 

stamford bridge

Historically, Chelsea teams have rarely made things easy and they did not do so for either their manager or a divided crowd here yesterday. Promising beginnings and a goal tapped in by Demba Ba suggested West Bromwich Albion might be swept aside, but failure to score a second one spawned impatience and put the spotlight and pressure back on Rafa Benitez later on.

Click here to watch the highlights of the game

Those supporters apparently craving a defeat to hasten his exit became torn between that and wanting Frank Lampard to acquire his 200th goal for the club, which would be only two behind Bobby Tambling's club record. Neither outcome materialised, just a vaguely satisfactory victory that carried the team into third place before Tottenham's derby against Arsenal this afternoon. Assuming Benitez is given more time – and no assumption carries any degree of certainty at this club – he must now negotiate two games with Steaua Bucharest, the clear leaders of the Romanian League, an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford next Sunday, and then the continuation of a favourable run of fixtures that should keep Chelsea in the running for a top four finish.

Defeats by Albion hastened the downfall of the two previous Chelsea managers, Roberto di Matteo and Andre Villas-Boas – the latter a year ago today. Those games were both at the Hawthorns where Chelsea have recently struggled, although Stamford Bridge has never been a successful hunting ground for yesterday's visitors, whose last League success here was as long ago as 1978. Another one would have been undeserved, for they could easily have been three goals behind at half-time before threatening only late in the game to capitalise on the increasing tension around the ground.

With their leading scorer Romelu Lukaku unable to play against his parent club, Shane Long was flying solo in attack and found that a demanding assignment against Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz. In the end Petr Cech needed to make two saves all afternoon, both from direct free-kicks. "When you're only one goal behind you've always got a chance," said the West Bromwich manager Steve Clarke, a far more popular figure here than Benitez after 12 years as a player and eight as coach. His disappointment and complaint yesterday was: "We went to sleep at a set-play."

Benitez picked Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, much as Di Matteo had often done, and their interchanging and interpassing in the first hour at least was often a delight. Half a dozen chances materialised before the interval and Albion would have been beyond salvation but for some good work by their goalkeeper Ben Foster, who has made himself available for England again and was being watched by his former West Bromwich manager Roy Hodgson. Early on he saved at close range as Ba crossed for Oscar; the Brazilian then set up Mata to volley wide before a goal arrived to settle the crowd and the team for a while.

Luiz had won a corner with a fierce free-kick that Foster just managed to turn round a post after a deflection. From the short corner between Lampard and Oscar to which Albion were slow to react, Oscar's deep cross was headed back by Luiz for Ba to tap in. Mata was just wide after more incisive passing, and after Oscar's volley from a corner – looking like another smart training ground move – was blocked, so were shots from Mata and Cesar Azpilicueta from a move involving all three of Chelsea's midfield musketeers.

Amid this domination, Albion's only threat was Steven Reid's 25‑yard free-kick in the sixth minute, turned over the bar by Cech. There was nothing else from the visitors until a similar effort by their own controversial figure, Peter Odemwingie, in that uncomfortable last 10 minutes. His shot was dipping under the bar until Cech turned it for another corner, from which he was almost beaten by a misplaced header from his own full back Azpilicueta.

What Chelsea had needed was a goal round the hour-mark to avoid any tension. It was promised; Lampard was denied his 200th goal because Mata was rightly given offside, and when Jonas Olsson bundled into Hazard no penalty was given, offering Benitez the chance for some theatrics.

So impatience spread and the chants with it, the most hostile of them countered by support for the team, though never the manager. Fernando Torres received an equally mixed reception, coming on for the last three minutes, by which time Oscar had missed two more chances to calm everyone down.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness