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Chelsea reclaimed third place in the Barclays Premier League in a routine 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge.
Demba Ba's 28th-minute goal allowed Chelsea to return above Tottenham Hotspur for 24 hours at least, ahead of tomorrow's north London derby.
West Brom had not won a league match at Chelsea in almost 35 years and rarely looked like getting that far, even though they had several chances to equalise late on.
Chelsea almost went ahead in the fourth minute. Ba crossed from the right for Oscar, but Ben Foster, who has made himself available again for England, saved instinctively in front of the watching national manager Roy Hodgson.
Juan Mata, on his 100th Chelsea appearance, volleyed wide across goal before Steven Reid's long-range effort was tipped over by Petr Cech. Oscar could have had a rare headed goal when he met Mata's clipped cross to the back post after 16 minutes but did not convert.
Ba shot straight at Foster after latching on to a loose ball and Oscar screwed another effort over. Eden Hazard almost took advantage of indecision in the Baggies defence before Claudio Yacob's foul on Oscar presented Chelsea with a free-kick opportunity.
David Luiz's effort ricocheted off the wall and Foster scrambled it out for a corner, from which Chelsea went in front. The left-sided set-piece was played short to Oscar, whose inswinging cross towards the back post found Luiz and occupied the attentions of Foster. Luiz headed the ball back across goal for Ba to sweep it in.
Mata shot wide soon after before Oscar, twice, and Cesar Azpilicueta had efforts blocked. Lampard, seeking his 200th Chelsea goal, had an effort ruled out early in the second half, with Mata flagged offside in the build-up.
After 60 minutes, Benitez and the Blues fans reacted in unison in appeal for a penalty. Oscar's lofted ball forward was brought down by Hazard, who went down under pressure from Jonas Olsson, but referee Kevin Friend was unmoved.
The single-goal advantage was not a comfortable one for Chelsea and interim manager Rafael Benitez was animated in his technical area. Chelsea again threatened and again Foster saved from Oscar.
Azpilicueta's cross was headed down by Ba for the Brazilian, who scuffed his shot straight at the goalkeeper. Oscar again saw an effort saved by Foster before Cech had to tip over a dipping Peter Odemwingie free-kick.
Cech was called upon from the resulting corner as the ball was directed goalwards off the head of his team-mate Azpilicueta. A Victor Moses cross was just behind his fellow substitute Fernando Torres and Odemwingie had an effort saved by Cech.
Foster came up for a stoppage-time corner, but the hosts held on for three points to the relief of Benitez.
Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez: "I was today really pleased with the performance on the pitch and the atmosphere was really good. It was a great performance. The team, for 75 minutes, were in control, good play, good passes and great opportunities. The [West Brom] keeper [Ben Foster] was man of the match, for me. That means a lot."
"We had a lot of attempts, very good football, the atmosphere was good. The players played with more confidence and it was clear it was very positive."
West Brom head coach Steve Clarke: “We thought we prepared well enough to get something from the game today but unfortunately we didn’t. We went to sleep on a set play and that’s what cost us. But when you’re only one behind you’ve always got a chance. We were in the game. We didn’t create anything clear-cut but there were one or two scrambles at the end and you could feel the tension in the crowd.
“[Foster]’s a top goalkeeper and makes great saves. He’s been really good for us this season. He had a spell out injured and took a bit of time to get over that. Now you can see he’s back in top form - and he plays like that week in, week out.”
|19 May 2013||v Everton (H)|
|11 May 2013||v Aston Villa (A)|
|21 Apr 2013||v Liverpool (A)|
|17 Apr 2013||v Fulham (A)|
|05 May 2013||v Man Utd (A)|
|07 Apr 2013||v Sunderland (H)|