Chelsea required a controversial injury-time penalty to snatch a point at home to West Brom and dash what would have been a memorable victory for the visitors. Jose Mourinho’s side appeared to be heading for a second-straight Premier League defeat after Shane Long and Stephane Sessegnon struck in the second half to overturn Eden Hazard’s opener on the stroke of half time.
But with time running out and the home side pushing desperately for an equalizer, Chelsea were given a gift from referee Andre Marriner when Ramires flopped to the ground after running into and merely brushing against Steven Reid in the box. Eden Hazard coolly slotted home from the spot to bring about unsurprising confrontations between the two sets of players.
By the smallest and most fortunate of margins, Mourinho’s long unbeaten home record, now stretching to 66 matches across his two spells in charge of Chelsea, remains intact. Yet, it was a far from impressive performance by his side. Mourinho lamented his players after last week’s 2-0 loss at Newcastle United, but, while they beat Schalke 3-0 in midweek, there was little evidence of a reaction here.
As at St James’ Park, Chelsea began the match at a woefully slow tempo and with the team all too often split between a back six and front four. For Chelsea, so much of their attacking vitality relies upon the individual ability of their attacking midfield three. But with Hazard, Oscar and Willian not quite on song in the opening half there was little danger for the disciplined West Brom defense.
Yet, in the final minute of the period Chelsea grabbed a goal that their first-half display scarcely warranted. Hazard increased the pace in Chelsea’s attack for one of the first times as he cut in with intent from the left and fired a powerful low shot across goal that Boaz Myhill could only parry out into the danger zone. It should have been a simple clearance for Liam Ridgewell, but the West Brom defender dawdled inexplicably and Eto’o, who capitalized on the dallying of Schalke’s goalkeeper in midweek, did so again here to turn the ball into the net.
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There was little shift in the tempo of the match to begin the second half, but soon West Brom began to make inroads into getting an equalizer. Having already hit the post through a Long header, they took advantage of their best spell of the match by pulling level on the hour mark. From a right-wing corner, Gareth McAuley should have done better with an initial header from six yards that went straight at Cech, but with the ball looping up in the air right in front of goal, Long jumped highest and for longest and powered the ball into the net.
Typically, Jose Mourinho’s response was swift and purposeful. Demba Ba came on to add an extra attacker to the mix and Chelsea stepped up the pace in search of a goal to go back in front. Few could have foreseen that the net would next been bulging at the other end, let alone the manner of the goal. Sessegnon took a pass inside well on the edge of the box and created a shooting opportunity delightfully, but his low shot lacked any real menace. Cech, though, completely misjudged the effort and let it squirm embarrassingly past him and into the net.
Chelsea’s response was even more powerful this time around. The home side were putting their opponents under intense pressure, but just couldn’t find the goal required. In one extraordinary sequence, West Brom repeatedly failed to clear their box before Branislav Ivanovic fired a shot that looked destined for the corner of the net before Myhill got across superbly to keep it out. Willian, meanwhile, could have no excuse for failing to find the net with a header over the bar from six yards.
In the end it would take the intervention of the officials to draw Chelsea level, but Mourinho will know that major improvements are required if he is to start his second spell in charge with anything like the same success as he began his first.