Demba Ba’s 28th-minute strike eased the pressure on Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez with a 1-0 Premier League victory over West Brom at Stamford Bridge.
After Benitez’s outburst about certain Chelsea fans in midweek, a mutiny was anticipated from the home supporters.
But after a series of banners had been unfurled asking for Benitez’ s exit in the build-up, the game settled down and Chelsea dominated proceedings for 75 minutes of the match.
Ba put them ahead, although Oscar spurned a series of chances to add to the tally and kill the game off.
It meant that the all-too-familiar Chelsea jitters returned in the final quarter of an hour as West Brom finally went in search of an equaliser.
But despite substitute Peter Odemwingie drawing a save from Petr Cech and Cesar Azpilicueta almost turning one past his own keeper under pressure, the Blues held on.
Benitez’s side return to third in the table – at least until the result of Sunday’s North London derby.
West Brom were weakened by the absence of Romelu Lukaku, the loan star unable to play against his parent club. As for the home side, the decision to leave John Terry and Fernando Torres on the bench may have been talking points, but this was probably the strongest team Benitez could field.
And his attacking four were into the action almost straight away – with four minutes on the clock they should have been ahead. Ba was the provider, whipping in a cross from the right which Oscar should have tucked away. It was the first of several good stops from Ben Foster in the West Brom goal and with Roy Hodgson in attendance it will have done his hopes of an England recall after a self-imposed international exile no harm.
Mata was the next to go close, dragging a shot wide after being played in by Oscar.
At the other end Steven Reid lashed a free kick powerfully at goal, forcing Cech into a save – although comfortably dealt with, it was probably the Baggies’ best chance of the half.
The chances piled up for the Blues, with Oscar and Luiz the next to go close before Ba struck just before the half-hour.
Oscar drifted a cross to the far post, where Luiz stole in to nod back across goal, leaving Ba the simplest of tasks to tuck the ball home from a couple of yards out.
From that point on, it was all Chelsea – Mata drilled the ball into the side netting, Oscar nodded straight into Foster’s arms from close range, and Azpilicueta had a drive from around the penalty spot blocked in the nick of time.
The second half began in much the same fashion. Frank Lampard had the ball in the back of the net early, although with Mata offside in the build-up it did not stand. Ba was soon close to a second, only denied by a timely intervention from Foster.
Oscar again missed an opportunity to get on the scoresheet, stroking the ball within Foster’s grasp after Ba had headed down Azpilicueta’s cross into his path.
Chelsea could not close West Brom out of the contest, and though the visitors had offered precious little up front in the first 75 minutes, they were still not out of the game.
Steve Clarke threw on Odemwingie and Markus Rosenberg, looking to take advantage of Chelsea’s frailties as the game wore on.
They came close – and it required some sharp goalkeeping from Cech to deny the Baggies an equaliser from Odemwingie's free kick and the resulting corner.
Even Foster ran upfield for a last-minute corner as West Brom had one final fling, but despite a couple of acrobatic lunges at the ball from the keeper, the match ended with Jonas Olsson drilling the ball wide of goal.
It was a result Chelsea's performance ultimately deserved, and although Benitez must feel that every result the Blues eke out is extremely hard-fought at present, a clean sheet and three points, allied to progress in the FA Cup in midweek, actually represents a decent week for Chelsea.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Demba Ba (Chelsea) - Strong and committed, comfortable in the striker's role or peeling off wide to lay on chances. He got the goal his performance deserved.
CHELSEA: Cech 7, Azpilicueta 7, Ivanovic 6, David Luiz 7, Cole 6, Ramires 7, Lampard 6, Oscar 7, Mata 7, Hazard 6, Ba 8 - Subs – Mikel N/A, Moses N/A, Torres N/A
WEST BROM: Foster 8, Reid 7, McAuley 6, Olsson 7, Ridgewell 6, Yacob 5, Mulumbu 6, Fortune 7, Morrison 6, Dorrans 6, Long 6 - Subs – Odemwingie 7, Thomas 7, Rosenberg (N/A)
- Sports & Recreation
- West Brom
- Rafa Benitez
- Demba Ba