Twenty-four hours after Jose Mourinho declared of diving, “I hate it, but I don’t have a problem as none of my players do it,” his unbeaten league record at Stamford Bridge was rescued by an example of the genre from Ramires. The Brazilian tumbled to the floor in the 94th and final minute of this pulsating match. It may have been a dive, it may have been Ramires lost control of his legs, either way it should not have been a penalty.
Andre Marriner thought differently and Eden Hazard converted the spot-kick to end his difficult week on a positive note and deny Steve Clarke a famous victory over his former boss.
Behind to an injury-time first-half goal from Samuel Eto’o, Albion had scored twice in eight second-half minutes through Shane Long and Stéphane Sessègnon – the latter due to a howler by Petr Cech. They had chances to kill the game but seemed set for victory when Ramires burst into the box and hit the deck as Steven Reid came in to tackle. Ben Foster, Albion’s injured goalkeeper, tweeted in apparent response: ‘A load of shit’.
“It was a penalty,” insisted Mourinho with a straight face. “I wasn’t sure from the bench but I have seen it on television.” He must have been watching a different screen to Clarke who said, after viewing a series of replays: “I am flabbergasted at the decision. I can’t believe he gave it. It was a bad decision. [Ramires] started going down early, before the contact. "
Clarke added: “It is very, very hard to take. I am very disappointed and very sad for my team as they deserved the three points, but I’m proud of my team too.”
Mourinho felt his team deserved at least a point as Albion had “not crossed the halfway line in the first half”. That is reasonably accurate, but given the clubs’ respective resources it was up to Chelsea to break them down.
That they struggled to do. A well-drilled back four is a thing of rare beauty and Albion’s operates with clockwork precision. With distances between defenders expertly maintained, and Jonas Olsson calling the ‘step up’, ‘drop off’, movement, they kept Chelsea restricted to the free-kicks Claudio Yacob kept conceding. Oscar brought a good save from Boaz Myhill from one of these but it was still a surprise when Chelsea broke though.
The architect was Hazard, dropped against Schalke in midweek as punishment for missing training on Monday following a cross-Channel trip. He cut in from the right, evading challenges, before driving a low shot towards the far post. Myhill went full length to palm the ball out and Liam Ridgewell should have cleared. But he paused to allow the ball to run across his body so he could kick with his left foot and Eto’o nipped in to poke the ball past the prone keeper.
As Eto’o’s recent embarrassing of goalkeepers David Marshall and Timo Hildebrand has shown, the veteran striker may not be quite as quick over 20 yards as he once what, but his mind is as sharp as ever.
The irony was, having been forced to come out Albion outplayed Chelsea. Long headed against the post from a Morgan Amalfitano cross before heading in the loose ball after Cech had parried a point-blank Gareth McAuley header from an Amalfitano corner. Then Sessègnon robbed Branislav Ivanovic – “a bad mistake by the referee, it was a foul”, said Mourinho; “not a foul” said Clarke, “just good pressure”. The Benin striker traded passes with Ridgewell then shot weakly, but under Cech’s dive.
Mourinho, who dropped Ashley Cole for the match, preferring Cesar Azpilicueta at left-back, introduced Juan Mata among a trio of substitutions and went to three at the back. With Mata orchestrating the attacks they laid siege to Albion’s goal. Myhill saved an Ivanovic volley, Willian headed over Hazard’s cross, Demba Ba somehow failed to connect with a Gary Cahill cross.
With John Terry and Cahill playing as auxilary stikers, and John Obi Mikel sweeping, Albion broke and Chris Brunt should have scored. The seconds ticked by and had Goran Popov taken the ball into the corner flag instead of trying an ambitious shot in the 94th minute, Albion would have won. Instead Chelsea went forward one last time. “Chelsea had run out of ideas,” said Clarke. “They were lumping the ball into the box, they were waiting for a lucky break, and they got it.”
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta (Mikel, 72); Ramires, Lampard (Ba, 64); Willian, Oscar (Mata, 72), Hazard; Eto’o.
West Bromwich (4-4-1-1): Myhill; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Amalfitano (Popov, 88), Mulumbu, Yacob, Brunt; Sessègnon (Morrison, 81); Long (Anichebe, 79).
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Olsson (West Bromwich)
Match rating: 7/10
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