Premier League - AVB on brink as West Brom stun Chelsea
A gutless Chelsea side lost 1-0 at West Brom as Gareth McAuley poached a late winner to give the Baggies their third Premier League win in a row.
The defeat heaps further pressure on Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas, who saw his side fall three points behind fourth-placed Arsenal.
After a strange pre-match press conference from the Portuguese in which he appeared to criticise the quality of his squad, the Blues did their best to make his point.
From an 83rd-minute corner, McAuley got his second goal for the Baggies as he diverted Liam Ridgewell’s shot into an empty net following poor defending by the visitors - and it was not the first example of that.
Chelsea had played well enough in the first half and were unfortunate not to be leading at the break, but they withdrew into their shell in the second period and Roy Hodgson’s side were rewarded for their endeavour with an impressive win.
Chelsea started the match fairly well, creating and missing several good chances in a first half that was as bright and breezy as the conditions at the Hawthorns.
Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge were the guilty parties, the former completely missing his volley after a fine cross by the latter, who then himself put wide after being played in by Didier Drogba. He was not helped by a poor first touch, but should have scored with just the goalkeeper to beat.
That was not the first time the visitors had displayed defensive indecision - throughout the first half, David Luiz and Ashley Cole were beaten far too easily by runs inside from wide, with the hapless duo also missing clearances.
Early in the second half Steven Reid went down with an apparent ankle injury, almost giving Chelsea a route to goal. Mata sent Sturridge through, but Foster read the danger to clear.
West Brom were looking the more dangerous side though. Another Cole error handed a chance to Marc-Antoine Fortune whose touch let him down. Then, just before the hour mark, the Frenchman fired straight at Cech after the England left-back let the ball run through.
Cole was not the only player to struggle. Mata was largely AWOL and Luiz made some inexplicable decisions when faced with simple clearances.
But West Brom just cranked the pressure up as Fortune gave the clownish Luiz a torrid time, winning a corner as the Brazilian refused to clear, and also forcing a stop from Cech, as did Mulumbu following more poor play from the Brazil defender.
Torres was finally introduced, and his first act was to draw a rash tackle from Keith Andrews, resulting in a booking and free-kick wide left.
But that was it for the goal-shy Spaniard as, after Mata’s free-kick was cleared, West Brom counter-attacked to win the corner that broke the deadlock.
It was a catalogue of errors that did for the Blues too: Cech flapped at Brunt’s initial delivery, Andrews was given the time and space to pick out a cross that Chelsea seemed insistent in their refusal to clear. Finally the ball dropped to Ridgewell, who fired in a low cross-shot that a sliding, unmarked McAuley diverted home from close range.
That did spark a Chelsea comeback of sorts but it was too little too late when, deep into injury time, both Frank Lampard and Mata put wide from good positions, the former’s miss particularly poor.
There was further bad news for Villas-Boas as Cole was taken off with what appeared to be an ankle injury and even the presence of Cech for a late free-kick did not rattle the hosts, who climb to ninth following the win.