A tightly contested game by Steve Clarke's club West Bromwich Albion confirms that the former Chelsea player and assistant is building the Baggies in the right direction. In a home fixture with the Blues, West Brom held on for a 2-1 triumph in the friendly confines of the Hawthorns.
This marquee battle had huge ramifications for the English Premier League table, as Chelsea entered in third place and West Brom was tied for fourth, just four points behind the Blues.
It was the second straight win by the Baggies to add to their victory over Chelsea in March. Prior to then, it had been a severely lopsided matchup, as WhoScored.com's official Twitter notes:
West Brom vs. Chelsea: West Brom's 1-0 win over Chelsea in March ended a run of 13 consecutive losses against Chelsea bit.ly/QLkLhw— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) November 17, 2012
The first half was highlighted by two exceptional efforts—heady plays, if you will—by West Brom's Shane Long and Chelsea's Eden Hazard.
To open the scoring in the ninth minute, Long dove to head the ball just outside the box after a beautiful cross. His clever footwork got him past Blues defender David Luiz, and his diving attempt skipped into the goal on one hop to give the Baggies a 1-0 advantage.
Not to be outdone, Hazard made the most of a cross that soared in from the right side of the pitch and headed it past West Brom goalkeeper Boaz Myhill, who is filling in for Ben Foster due to Foster undergoing surgery for a groin injury (h/t Football365.com).
Long wasn't done contributing to the attack, as his cross into Peter Odemwingie resulted in a goal at 51' to put the scrappy Baggies back on top to stay.
Attacking midfielder Juan Mata didn't enter the game until the 63rd minute for the Blues. He generated a scoring chance immediately upon his entry, only to be denied by Myhill.
Not having Foster in goal certainly didn't help the West Brom defensive effort, but the Chelsea defense was shorthanded itself without captain John Terry, who suffered a knee injury against Liverpool. The video documenting the injury isn't suitable for all audiences, but IndoNewYork.com has it.
The road team dominated possession, retaining the ball for nearly 65 percent of the match and notching 12 corner kicks to zero for West Brom. But the Blues attack simply couldn't solve the Baggies backfield or Myhill for most of the day.
A wild finishing sequence involved several chances instigated by Mata—including Chelsea keeper Petr Cech coming forward on a corner in extra time. It wasn't meant to be for the Blues, though.
Here is a look at some player grades from Saturday's phenomenal fixture.
Shane Long: A+
The West Brom striker has to be considered the man of the match. His diving header drew first blood in the ninth minute, which was crucial in a fixture away from home. Long set the tone for the Baggies attack all afternoon and set up the game-winning goal as well.
Peter Odemwingie: A
Filling in for Chris Brunt on the wing (h/t Goal.com), Odemwingie has shown that he has overcome his previous slump with another stellar outing. His beautiful goal in the 51st minute wound up being enough to get the Baggies ahead for good.
With an attack that struggled with just 17 goals in 11 previous EPL fixtures, Odemwingie stepped up in one of the club's most important fixtures to date.
Eden Hazard: B+
In a supremely tough day, Hazard gave the host hope with his equalizer late in the first half. However, the Baggies defense was simply too tough all day for the Blues, as they only had six of their 17 shots wind up on target.
Youssouf Mulumbu: A+
Both Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob were outstanding in thwarting the Blues offense throughout the match. But in particular, Mulumbu was a standout fullback and also gutted through an apparent hamstring tweak down the stretch to prevent Chelsea from registering a point.
Now, the Baggies are within a point of the Blues in the EPL table, and Mulumbu is amongst the chief players for the West Brom faithful to thank.