17 November 2012

West Brom 2-1 Chelsea

Steve Clarke must be thinking that this managerial lark is quite straightforward.

His side recorded their third straight victory at the expense of European champions Chelsea, producing a dogged yet calm-on-the-ball performance. Shane Long opened the scoring for the Baggies in the tenth minute before Eden Hazard headed home before the break. Peter Odemwingie restored the home side's lead early on in the second period, which ultimately turned out to be the winner.

Gareth McAuley, Ben Foster and Romelu Lukaku all missed out for the hosts, the former pair suffering from hamstring and groin injuries respectively, while loanee Lukaku was ineligible against his parent club. 

Roberto Di Matteo named a surprising XI upon his return to the Hawthorns. Juan Mata, Oscar and Ramires all dropped to the bench, the Italian clearly having one eye on the Champions League clash with Juventus in midweek. John Terry and Frank Lampard missed out with injury, while Ashley Cole made the bench. 

The opening period was scrappy; the visitors, as expected, dominant and clever in possession. Initially Albion were happy to soak up the pressure and launch counter attacks when possible. 

Albion had a scare early on when Ryan Bertrand's shot beat Boaz Myhill, but Liam Ridgewell was on hand to scoop the ball off the line. Despite the run of play, Albion took the lead in the tenth minute. Zoltan Gera received a throw deep in opposing territory. The Hungarian then laid the ball into James Morrison and he in turn lifted the ball to the back post where Shane Long stooped to head beyond Petr Cech. The Irishman celebrated by making an emotional tribute following the recent death of his grandmother. 

Initially, the order of play commenced, the London side forcing the issue. John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses saw speculative efforts from distance fly wide. The Baggies very much held their own most of the half, occasionally threatening to double their advantage. On the half hour mark, Sturridge's snapshot was held by the increasingly impressive Myhill, while up the other end Long had a penalty appeal waved away by referee Oliver, the striker clearly enraged by the official's decision.

Long came closest to scoring without doing so on 35. He turned Gary Cahill on the edge of the area, leaving the defender on the floor, before Long curled a grounded effort just round Cech's far post. But Chelsea's build up play paid off four minutes later.

Cesar Azpilicueta was picked out on the right hand side of the area, the right back then cut inside and crossed to the back post where the ball was met by the head of Eden Hazard, the Belgian claiming the goal despite a deflection off Billy Jones.

Sturridge shot a stinging effort immediately from the restart, which just flew wide of the post.

H-T: 1-1

To their credit, the hosts came out for the second period with an intent to regain the lead. Many would have expected the side from the capital to seize the initiative and go on to win comfortably. But the third- and decisive- goal came on the counter once again. Jonas Olsson, who was outstanding all afternoon, released midfield engine Morrison. The Scot passed to Long out wide, and the cross which followed to the near post was headed past Cech by the fantastic Peter Odemwingie- the Nigerian's third goal in three games, and fourth of the season. 

Pressure followed. And it was relentless. Di Matteo resorted to throw on midfield wizards Mata and Oscar, replacing Oriel Romeu and the largely anonymous Fernando Torres. Boaz Myhill was on hand to thwart Daniel Sturridge for the umpteenth time with a strong hand after the England striker was played over the top by the exquisite Mata. Clarke decided to freshen his own team up soon after, introducing Chris Brunt and Graham Dorrans for James Morrison and Zoltan Gera. 

The football match entered the final throes in excellent fashion. Myhill excellently prevented Sturridge yet again, before Albion broke and Dorrans' take from a Long cross was just too heavy.

Shane Long received a standing ovation for his efforts as Markus Rosenberg replaced him. Di Matteo then proceeded to haul Mikel off for the energetic Ramires. The home side could have ended any hopes of a Chelsea result when Dorrans' improvised ball to Brunt was slightly too long, Mulumbu shooting wide soon after. 

Mata continued to cause problems, but couldn't perform any miracles against the opposition in front of him, all players behind the ball defending to the hilt, Rosenberg the only outlet. There were certainly some heart-in-mouth moments that the home fans had to endure in the dying moments, Hazard's deflected effort held by Myhill and Sturridge dragged a golden opportunity wide of the far post. Cech was seen at the back post for the final corner, but not even the Czech goalkeeper could save his side. 

The Baggies continued their startling beginning to the season, and moved into fourth, one point behind today's opposition. 

Match ratings: WBA- Myhill 8, Jones 7, Tamas 7, Olsson 8, Ridgewell 7, Yacob 7, Mulumbu 8, Morrison 7 (Dorrans 6), Gera 7 (Brunt 6), Odemwingie 8, Long 8 (Rosenberg 5)

CHE- Cech 6, Azpilicueta 7, Cahill 5, Luiz 6, Bertrand 6, Mikel 6 (Ramires 5), Romeu 6 (Oscar 6), Hazard 7, Moses 7, Sturridge 5, Torres 5 (Mata 6)

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