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
”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
Many wondered if this would be Benitez’s last stand, but the win
should ensure he stays on for the time being.