Benitez spared abuse as Chelsea wins 1-0

Demba Ba gave under-fire Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez some

much-needed respite by scoring the winner in a 1-0 victory over

West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, provisionally moving the team

into third place in the English Premier League.

A toxic atmosphere had been expected at Stamford Bridge after

Benitez’s outburst on Wednesday, when he criticized the club’s

board and supporters for not giving him their full backing since

his appointment as interim manager.

However, the backlash never materialized and Ba’s 28th-minute

goal, from David Luiz’s nod-down, helped remove any tension that

may have surfaced.

Chelsea was dominant save for a nervy final 10 minutes, and

secured a third straight home win in the league to climb above

Tottenham, which plays Arsenal on Sunday.

There was a muted response when Benitez emerged from the tunnel

and he received only isolated abuse during the game. He has had far

worse in his troubled 101-day tenure and maybe his plea for unity

got through to some fans, although there was a smattering of

banners around the ground – including one that read `Divided We

Fall (hash)Rafaout.’

”I was really pleased with the performance on the pitch and the

atmosphere was really good,” Benitez said.

”I was really pleased with the fans behind the team,” he

added. ”The players played with more confidence and it was clear

it was very positive.”

With Chelsea playing some delightful football in the first half,

there was no real need for supporters to vent their anger at

Benitez after that.

Oscar and Juan Mata had already been denied by West Brom

goalkeeper Ben Foster by the time Ba opened the scoring with a

well-worked corner routine that saw the ball arrive at the feet of

Oscar. His cross was met at the far post by fellow Brazilian Luiz,

whose header back across goal was met by a low finish from Ba. It

was his 15th league goal.

West Brom, which was without top scorer Romelu Lukaku because he

was ineligible to play against his parent club, was posing Chelsea

no problems and the hosts maintained their dominance in the second

half, although the second goal wouldn’t come.

Ba missed a great chance to score a second goal when his

goalbound shot from close range was blocked while winger Eden

Hazard was denied a penalty after appearing to be bundled over by

Jonas Olsson. Oscar’s volley from Ba’s nod-down was well saved by

Foster in the 78th.

The longer the game went on, the more tense the crowd became and

substitute Peter Odemwingie drew a great save out of Petr Cech with

a long-range free kick. From the resulting corner, the Czech

Republic goalkeeper needed to show more reflexes to bat away a

header toward his own goal by Cesar Azpilicueta.

There is recent precedent for a change of Chelsea manager

following losses to West Brom, with the Baggies being the final

Premier League opponent for both Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto di

Matteo.

Many wondered if this would be Benitez’s last stand, but the win

should ensure he stays on for the time being.