The Chelsea faithful are not used to having to wait to anoint their new manager with a victory. Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti had all begun their tenures here with a win. Even Luiz Felipe Scolari launched his ill-fated stay on a successful note. For Andre Villas-Boas, the latest to sit on the hottest of hot seats, it looked as if a second game would pass without the satisfaction of that winning feeling. His defence, unnerved by the absence of goalkeeper Peter Cech, had come apart as early as the fourth minute to gift a spirited and dogged West Bromwich Albion the lead. There was good reason for the new man to patrol his technical area with a worried frown as Chelsea laboured to find a response. But it all came right in the end with a winning goal seven minutes from time.
The imminent arrival of Juan Mata from Valencia for £26 million is being tipped to shorten the Chelsea career of Florent Malouda but those in blue were more than happy for the substitute's presence as he appeared at the far post to tuck away a delightful cross from Jose Bosingwa. The Frenchman is said to be a fitful performer but he had proved his value once again.
He also spared the new manager an unwanted inquest into their failure to win either of his opening two fixtures following the stalemate at Stoke six days before. "The players suffered from anxiety and could not express themselves in the way they wanted," said Villas-Boas. "Why were they anxious? Maybe from going behind so early. We said at half-time we had to free ourselves from the anxiety they were feeling and the public were feeling and in the second half it was a great Chelsea performance."
Villas-Boas gave his compatriot Hilario the chance to fill the space vacated by the injured Cech and he was rewarded with a vital save at the death when another substitute, Peter Odemwingie, threatened to steal the headlines from Malouda. He also decided to restore Nicolas Anelka to the firing line while Didier Drogba had again to accept a place among the replacements.
Despite the late afternoon start there was bright sunshine to welcome the dawn of a new era at Stamford Bridge. Keen anticipation swirled around with the sight of these opponents pricking memories of last season's 6-0 rampage here by Ancelotti's army on the campaign's first day.
It didn't take long for deflation to take over from expectation. Hilario got a taste of what he was letting himself in for when he was forced to come to the edge of his area to head the ball away as Shane Long bore down with menace. It wasa desperate measure and a harbinger of a casual start by last season's runners-up that would become even more apparent 60 seconds later.
A square pass from Bosingwa was maybe not the brightest thing he has ever produced on a football field but it still should not have caused Alex problems. The Brazilian got his feet in a tangle and that was enough to encourage a predator of Long's calibre, West Bromwich's new £6m man robbing him with ease before slipping the ball beyond Hilario with the minimum of fuss.
It might have got worse in the 25th minute as Chelsea toiled against opponents who advertise splendidly Roy Hodgson's commitment to hard work and good organisation. Long burned off John Terry in the chase for a flighted ball and rolled a pass across the area to where Somen Tchoyi was waiting to apply a decisive touch. Sadly for the visitors, Long's pass was applied a tad too heavily and the home side escaped.
They departed to boos at the interval but at least signs had emerged that it was starting to come together. Malouda had replaced Salomon Kalou and improvement was almost instant as Ashley Cole drew a flying save from Ben Foster who was grateful to hang on to the firmly-hit drive.
The interval discussion worked wonders. Chelsea dominated proceedings after that although it was not the work of Fernando Torres who departed after an hour to make way for Drogba and they could never count on Albion's compliance with Tchoyi a powerful sidekick for Long. When Frank Lampard went down there were strong appeals for a penalty but Anelka played on, opting to go outside his immediate opponent before angling the ball across Foster and into the far corner.
Albion responded as if affronted by the turn of events. Paul Scharner climbed impressively but nodded into the crowd. Anelka forced a fine save and Malouda was unable to follow up. The game – and Chelsea – had found a better rhythm now but the home team were still indebted to Hilario as Tchoyi took aim for the left-hand corner.
Chelsea pressed and pressed, Drogba first failing to find the target and then seeing a cross run away from him before Lampard demanded a fine stop with his legs from Foster. Then Bosingwa darted between two defenders to deliver an immaculate low cross to the far post where Malouda awaited to apply the decisive finish. For the second weekend in succession Hodgson and his team were left feeling hard done by. "We made two errors down the left to let them in and the better the opposition, the more they will punish you," he said.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Bosingwa, Alex (Ivanovic, 66), Terry, Cole; Mikel, Ramires, Lampard; Anelka, Torres (Drogba, 59), Kalou (Malouda, 35).
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Foster; Reid, Tamas, Olsson, Shorey; Brunt, Mulumbu (Dorrans, 87), Scharner, Morrison; Long, Tchoyi (Odemwingie, 75).
Referee Lee Mason.
Man of the match Anelka (Chelsea)
Match rating 7/10Reuse content