Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Ba eases Benitez's woes

Demba Ba's, centre, first-half strike was enough for three points against West Brom

Chelsea claimed a routine 1-0 win over West Brom as Rafael Benitez made a victorious Stamford Bridge return following his midweek criticism of Blues supporters.

Demba Ba's 28th-minute goal saw Chelsea return above Tottenham to third place in the Barclays Premier League for 24 hours at least, ahead of Sunday's north London derby.

West Brom had not won a league match at Chelsea in almost 35 years, and although owner Roman Abramovich may be content with Benitez in charge until the end of the season and a fifth win in seven games, that may not be enough to appease Blues fans.

Benitez says he will decide whether Terry, with his fitness travails, can play twice a week and the defender's armband was passed to Frank Lampard, who moved equal with John Hollins as the club's third-highest appearance maker on 592.

Chelsea almost went ahead in the fourth minute as Ba crossed from the right for Oscar, but Ben Foster saved instinctively. Juan Mata, on his 100th Chelsea appearance, volleyed wide across goal before Steven Reid's long-range effort was tipped over by Petr Cech.

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 who headed the ball back across goal for Ba to sweep it in.

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. Chelsea again threatened and again Foster saved from Oscar.

Cesar 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 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. Foster came up for a stoppage-time corner, but the hosts held on for three points to the relief of Benitez.