Chelsea missed the chance to go four points clear in the Premier League—for 24 hours, at least—as substitute Victor Anichebe’s late goal earned West Brom a 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns on Tuesday.
In a result that perhaps eased the pain some Baggies fans still feel after the controversial draw at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, Anichebe drove home with three minutes remaining to cancel out Branislav Ivanovic’s strike and secure a share of the points.
Chelsea are now two points ahead of Arsenal and three clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, with the latter sides set to play their game in hand on Wednesday, against Manchester United and Sunderland, respectively.
Afterwards, Blues boss Jose Mourinho told the BBC:
In the last 20 minutes they put us under pressure and they scored a goal as a consequence.
Maybe they deserved that point. A point is a point and at the end of the season we will see.
I think the game for 60 minutes was completely in our hands, West Brom didn't put one foot in our box. We couldn't kill the game.
Mourinho named a familiar team for the contest, with Nemanja Matic and Ramires playing as the holding players in midfield and Oscar, Eden Hazard, Willian and Samuel Eto’o continuing as a familiar attacking quartet.
West Brom, meanwhile, made a change in attack—with January loan signing Thievy Bifouma partnering with Saido Berahino at the spearhead of the side.
The pair occasionally showed glimpses of an understanding and infrequently threatened to run beyond Chelsea’s defence, but in general, it was the visitors who dominated the possession and the play in the first 45 minutes.
They struggled greatly to create many chances, however, with Oscar looking less fluid than usual and Hazard only managing to show evidence of his recent outstanding form with a couple of mazy runs.
Overall, the Blues were restricted to shots from range, with Willian blazing wide on two occasions.
That all changed on the stroke of half-time, however, as West Brom conceded a strike that will not have pleased manager Pepe Mel. An outswinging corner was flicked on at the near post by David Luiz and, with two West Brom defenders ball-watching from a stationary position, Ivanovic was able to run in behind and volley home from close range to give the Blues a crucial advantage.
Perhaps eager to impose on his side the importance of holding on to their advantage, Mourinho sent his side out at the last possible moment in the second half—and they resumed with a focus on defensive solidity over attacking intent.
Indeed, it took until near the hour mark for a shot of note, Willian forcing a good save from Ben Foster as he hit a 20-yard drive following a searching run into the final third.
As the game entered the final stages, however, Mel went to his bench for a spark—bringing on attackers Anichebe and Matej Vydra to try to produce something special.
3 - Baines (19), Terry (18) and Cahill (17) are the only defenders to have scored more than Ivanovic since his Premier League debut. Answer.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 11, 2014
And with three minutes remaining, the Spaniard got the result he wanted. After the game was briefly delayed due to an injury to Gary Cahill, the ball made its way out to Berahino on the flanks. The England Under-21 international produced a perfect cross for Anichebe, who planted his header beyond Petr Cech to put the Baggies on terms.
With nearly 10 minutes left to play (six minutes of injury time were eventually added on), Chelsea still had the opportunity to grab the winner that Mourinho undoubtedly will have demanded, but instead, it was West Brom who had the better chances for a winner—as Chris Brunt, Vydra and Anichebe all saw openings denied.
Nevertheless, a draw perhaps helps the Baggies more in their bid to avoid relegation than it does Chelsea in their pursuit of the title.
They may well gain confidence from fighting back against one of the league's title challengers—Chelsea, in contrast, will be desperate to make amends in their next contest after squandering some of the momentum acquired after victories over Manchester City and Newcastle.
WBA manager Pepe Mel noted (via the BBC):
I am very pleased. The players worked hard and were strong. If we scored the goal earlier, we would win the game.
1-1 against Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea. Now we need to win our next game. West Brom next season will be in the Premier League.
The players need to win matches. It is good on the pitch when the match finishes and West Brom has won. We will go for warm weather training to Spain to work together and for tactics.
|John Obi Mikel||6|
Chelsea's next game is in the FA Cup against Manchester City before they return to league duties against Everton at Stamford Bridge in 11 days.
West Brom, meanwhile, have that period to plan for their next game—which is once again at The Hawthorns, this time against Chelsea's near-neighbours, Fulham.