A brilliant goal by Zola was the only memorable moment in a pretty unforgettable match against probably the poorest team we’ve faced this season.
Eidur Gudjohnsen had just been replaced by Jesper Gronkaer when Zola and JFH combined in a move that brought back memories of JFH and Gudjohnsen’s understanding of last season.
Zola, with back to goal, flicked a ball in the middle to JFH who held off several defenders to play a return to the little Italian. There was still some work to do, and Zola took it to the last defender’s right and curled a brilliant right foot shot inside the near post while sliding to the ground. Goal of the month.
But it was out of place in a match in which Chelsea rarely got out of second gear — and didn’t have to. With Zola, JFH and Gudjohnsen all starting in a 3-4-1-2 formation, it was clear we were only after three points and we got them, even though the formation never really worked in creating openings.
But Cudicini didn’t have a save to make as West Brom’s attack showed as much invention as a hammer. Chelsea weren’t much better, preferring to stroll around as if victory was inevitable, which it turned out it was.
The only moment of excitement was when JFH blundered through some weak West Brom challenges to race through clean on goal. He shot well too, but Hoult threw a hand up to deflect the ball over the bar.
That was it for action until Le Saux swung a corner into the six-yard box and Mario Stanic had to just flex a neck muscle to nod the ball home. West Brom will wonder why their goalie was rooted to his line.
When West Brom brought Dichio on at half time, it was obvious they believed the way to goal was by aerial bombardment. But they were showing a lot more determination all over the field and Chelsea were having to break a sweat for the first time. Ranieri, perhaps sensing that the extra space afforded by the more ambitious West Brom was a situation for Gronkjaer, withdrew a clearly unhappy Gudjohnsen.
The first act of Gronjaer was to congratulate Zola on his moment of magic. After that, there was no doubt about the winners, just a question of by how much. JFH had two further gilt-edged chances and was denied once by Hoult’s legs and the final time fractionally missed the target after more sublime skill from Zola had set him up.
Then the West Brom air force took over, bombing the Chelsea area as if it was Baghdad. A few scrambles in the penalty area was about all the effect until a free kick was deflected by Melchiot, pushed out by Cudicini against Desailly (who had come on to help repel the air force) and saved again by the goalie.
Chelsea were now in full stall and comfortably strolled out the final few minutes to move back up to fourth place and a Champions League spot. The home games against Everton and Liverpool now look pivotal to our ambition of making the Champions League, but we’ll have to ensure we don’t slip up against the inferior teams like West Brom. Today, it never looked like we would.
CUDICINI, 6 — Saved one shot that was going wide anyway and two in quick succession from his own defenders. Otherwise he practised his kicking.
MELCHIOT, 7 — A very solid game and his heading ability was needed on several occasions.
GALLAS, 7 — He and Terry controlled the middle until the West Brom mortars came in during the second half.
TERRY, 7 — Never really troubled.
STANIC, 6 — Played the sort of game you’d expect: fairly effective if clumsy defending and flicking the ball on with his head.
MORRIS, 6 — What can you say? Busy and determined without creating too much.
LAMPARD, 6 — Not for the first time looked less effective without Petit alongside, but kept the midfield turning over and pressed forward whenever possible.
LE SAUX, 6 — First game back for a few weeks and looked lonely without Baba and seemed unsure of when to push forward and when to stay back.
ZOLA, 9 — Head and shoulders the best player on the park. Apart from his goal, showed invention and trickery quite beyond anyone else.
GUDJOHNSEN, 5 — He may have been disappointed when he went off, but no one else could have been. Seemed in a permanent funk.
HASSELBAINK, 6 — Showed his pace on two occasions to leave defenders behind, but had no luck with the final shot. Still allows defenders to steal around him to nick the ball away when he should be able to hold it up.