By the end of a spiteful contest, a crowd earlier united in hushed respect for the late Peter Osgood was split between those screaming "Cheats" and a minority chanting "Champions". From the Black Country to Catalonia, Chelsea have given a fresh twist to the concept of divide and rule.
Rule they certainly will, at least in the Premiership, six victories now separating Jose Mourinho's side from a second title after the 100th game since Roman Abramovich lured him to London. But on the evidence of The Hawthorns, Chelsea may be the most disdained champions since Don Revie's Leeds United during Osgood's pomp.
The Special One, moreover, is in danger of being perceived as the cynical one. Not that he is likely to care. Chelsea's requirement from West Bromwich Albion was points, not plaudits, plus a clean bill of health for the Champions' League battle in Barcelona tomorrow. The mission was accomplished with relative ease, despite the 62nd-minute dismissal of Arjen Robben by the referee, Mark Halsey.
Mourinho had the opportunity to defend Robben's lunge on Jonathan Greening, which looked no more than a bookable offence; also to explain why Didier Drogba fell as if struck by a sniper's bullet after an innocuous brush with Greening; and to account for his players' late appearance for the second half. Churlishly, he skipped the press conference. A sheepish jobsworth said that a "group decision" had been taken to abstain.
A prominent broadcaster sought clarification on Chelsea's media silence (apart from fulfilling contractual obligations). He was informed that the club knew what the questions would be, and that they did not have to justify themselves or explain the referee's bad decisions. All classic siege-mentality stuff and a depressingly arrogant stance.
One result of Chelsea's reticence to communicate with the press - and by extension, with their own fans - is that the home view of events went largely unopposed. Bryan Robson, who felt Robben was harshly banished, seethed about Drogba "trying to even up the sides" with his dying-swan act. The visitors' late arrival after half-time was, the Albion manager argued, "designed to take the sting out of it".
Chelsea, one eye on the Nou Camp, had played within themselves up to the interval. Drogba then shot them ahead after Albion carelessly conceded possession, and the Ivorian set up Joe Cole for the second goal shortly after Robben reprised his premature exit at Sunderland.
Nwankwo Kanu's riposte gave Albion late hope. They had missed their chance, however, by failing to exploit Chelsea's sluggish start, and by leaving Kevin Campbell unsupported for too long after going behind. They could be dragged into the drop zone if they lose at Birmingham, with whom they are now vying for 17th place, in another potentially combustible affair next Saturday. A revealing take on the rancour came from Steve Watson, an uncompromising but essentially honest player.
"If someone isn't hurt, I'd like to see them get up and get on with it," said the Albion substitute, referring to Drogba. "I'd hate to think he was trying to get someone sent off. But the way he went down, you have to assume he's hurt. Then, for him to get up five minutes later and not even be limping, it's very disappointing. I'm old school. I think it's unnecessary."
Watson still found qualities to admire in Chelsea, adding: "I don't think you can buy the title. They've got more money than other clubs, but when I was at Newcastle we spent a lot and won nothing. You need players who gel as a team. They dug in here. They were hard to beat." The opinion was echoed by Robson, who hailed Mourinho as "a fantastic coach" and praised his penchant for "grinding out results".
But is it too much to expect champions to do rather more than grind out results, and to conduct themselves with a modicum of dignity? Even Revie eventually took the leash off Leeds, who earned grudging acclaim as one of the great British sides. Should Chelsea fail in Barcelona, one suspects the disappointment will be confined to Stamford Bridge.
Goals: Drogba (51) 0-1; J Cole (74) 0-2; Kanu (88) 1-2.
West Bromwich Albion (4-5-1): Kuszczak; Albrechtsen (Watson, 82), Davies, Clement, Robinson; Kamara, Kozak, Wallwork, Inamoto (Ellington, 71), Greening; Campbell (Kanu, 71). Substitutes not used: Kirkland (gk), Carter.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; P Ferreira, Huth, Terry, Gallas; Essien, Gudjohnsen (Geremi, 73), Makelele; Robben, Drogba (Wright-Phillips, 86), Duff (J Cole, 63). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Maniche.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Booked: West Bromwich Albion Wallwork; Chelsea Gallas.
Sent off: Chelsea Robben.
Man of the match: Makelele.
Attendance: 26,581.Reuse content