Chelsea 1-0 West Brom: Ba Strike Enough To See Off Baggies

By on March 3, 2013

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Chelsea secured a narrow 1-0 victory against West Brom at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon, re-claiming third place in the Premier League in the process.

Demba Ba’s strike after 26 minutes proved to be decisive despite the hosts creating numerous chances to ensure a more comfortable finish. As has often been the case at Stamford Bridge under Rafael Benitez, the stadium was adorned with banners of hostility towards the Spaniard. Following Benitez’s public criticism of some sections of fans after their mid-week FA Cup win at Middlesbrough, all eyes were on the home support as to exactly how much support would be afforded.

But the interim manager appeared to receive no more abuse than has been usual at the Bridge, meaning the Blues could concentrate on playing football. Having made wholesale changes for the trip to Teeside on Wednesday, Benitez restored his first team regulars however there was no place in the starting XI for club captain John Terry or Fernando Torres.

Chelsea could have made life for themselves (and Benitez) much easier had Oscar converted from Ba’s cross inside 3 minutes. The Brazilian’s effort was tame and Ben Foster claimed easily. Wasting a glorious chance to go 1-nil up, minutes later the home side might have found themselves 1-nil behind. Stephen Reid struck fiercely from 35-yards after winning a free-kick but Blues’ keeper Petr Cech was equal to the shot, tipping it over.

After a frantic opening exchange, it was Chelsea who began to take a grip on the game, a showing that pleased both Benitez and home support. Chances arrived for Oscar once more and Ba respectively but neither could capitalise: Oscar heading straight at Foster while Ba’s shot did likewise.

But Chelsea, and in particular Ba, were not to be denied and the ex Newcastle striker put Chelsea ahead just before the half-hour mark. The goal appeared to come straight from the training ground: Frank Lampard took a corner short to Oscar and his cross was put back across the face of goal by David Luiz. To the delight of the home support, Ba was at hand to tuck the ball away; only his second league goal since joining Chelsea in January.

Chelsea’s energy looked to have been left in the dressing room at half time, as West Brom sought a way back into the match. Ba did go close to doubling his tally and his side’s lead 10 minutes into the second half but Foster continued to impress, saving from close range after Oscar’s corner had fallen for the Senagalese international.

Despite the Baggie’s enthusiasm, there was very little in the way of chances created, despite the introduction of their own “boo-boy” Peter Odemwingie who tragically attempted to engineer a move to QPR in the recent transfer window, despite no official bid from the London club.

Whilst West Brom began to see much more of the possession that they saw in the first half, it was Chelsea who looked most likely to score and it was only the form of Foster that ensured the Blues did not run away with this one. The ex-England keeper saved brilliantly from Oscar on 79 minutes whose volley from Ba’s headed knock-down looked set to burst the net before Foster’s intervention. Oscar had another chance moments later, but again Foster reacted well to deny the Brazilian who will feel unlucky not to have registered at least one goal.

The longer the scores stayed at 1-0 the more anxious the Stamford Bridge faithful became. So often recently have Chelsea conceded late against perceived ‘smaller’ clubs (think back to Swansea and QPR) and West Brom almost made history repeat itself. An Odemwingie free-kick had Cech at full-stretch and his touch was vital in ensuring the ball was directed over, and not under the bar. From the resulting corner Cesar Azpilicueta almost turned in to his own net but the Czech international showed quick reflexes to stop an unfortunate equaliser.

As Chelsea became penned in by the desperate Baggie’s attacks, Foster- who had been so impressive in keeping his side just 1-0 down- joined the attack in a bid to force an equaliser. But the Blues hung on for a second successive win in all competitions, having surrendered so limply to Manchester City last weekend.

The win will likely not have any effect on Benitez’s relationship with the fans: not least after his passionate interview mid-week where he condemned the ‘boo-boys’, but the three points have ensured the Blues reclaim 3rd spot at least until Spurs’ game on Sunday. With the title race looking little more than a distant blur on the horizon, Chelsea must ensure that they keep the heat on Manchester City should they slip up in their own slim bid to keep hold of the Premier League trophy.

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