As the players trudged off the Hawthorns pitch yesterday, the 7th Premier League defeat of the season and the performance that went with it felt like the final nail in the coffin for Andre Villas-Boas.
And come Sunday lunch time that was indeed the case as the youngest manager in the Premier League was sent on his way after just 39 games in charge, but with just 3 wins in the previous 12 games.
In fact, the less than pretty statistics were also a big part of yesterday’s defeat, with West Brom registering more attempts on goal than any other opposing team against in more than three years. This, coupled with the worrying lack of any fight for a side that many of us normally consider gritty rather than stylish, means the Blues now find themselves three points adrift of Arsenal in the race for fourth and Champions League football next season.
It was a bad day from start to finish, with Roy Hodgson’s side, who put in a good display at the Bridge back in August, moved the ball well and repeatedly threatening Petr Cech’s goal, particularly in the latter stages of the game.
Chelsea’s two clearest chances both fell to Daniel Sturridge, who in the first half could only drag wide after miss-controlling a terrific angled through ball from Didier Drogba, the England international was forced to swivel and shoot, but could only drag his effort wide. In the second half he had the opportunity to redeem himself but seemed to lose his nerve when chasing down a fifty-fifty with Albion keeper Ben Foster. Clearly getting to the ball first, Sturridge tried to let it run across his boy rather than touch it round the on-rushing keeper, but Foster read the situation well and was able to clear.
This was arguably the turning point in what had been a fairly even game up to this point, but West Brom sensed the vulnerability of the visitors, and with Sturridge inexplicitly removed with 25 minutes to go, Chelsea’s biggest threat was off the pitch. Marc-Antoine Fortune, who had hassled the back four all afternoon, along with Youssouf Mulumbu forced good saves from Cech. In fact, by the time Gareth McAuley stabbed home Ridgewell’s shot across goal, few Chelsea fans would have felt surprised their team had succumbed.
The Blues lacked cohesion and any sense of direction and purpose for the entire afternoon, with the normally reliable Mata sloppy in possession, and Didier Drogba anonymous for the most part.
There was one chance to salvage a point late on when Ashley Cole burst down the left and volleyed a cross on the area, only for the inevitable Frank Lampard goal not to arrive as his effort flew agonisingly wide.
Perhaps that entire move summed up AVB’s tenure atStamfordBridge; some early promise but ultimately not quite good enough. While the players have to take just as much blame for their poor showing yesterday, there are deeper seeded problems and clearly instability in the dressing room that simply could not be allowed to continue.
The main thing for the players will be to move on from the performance yesterday and try and keep the club in the FA Cup on Tuesday night with Roberto Di Matteo in charge then, and for the rest of the season. Big improvements in attitude and application will be needed, but they can still salvage something from what has been a pretty dark season for our football club.