Who was it that said Albion no longer play attractive football? There was also some people who suggested that the side down the road now play better football than the Baggies! Not this weekend. While the Villa were getting hit for six on the south coast, Albion were knocking the stuffing out of the champions of England.
Tony Pulis made three changes to the side that secured Premier League survival at Newcastle. James Morrison, Saido Berahion and Callum McManaman were all recalled as Pulis opted for a fluid 4-3-3 formation.
After Albion’s guard of honour, the Baggies brushed aside any formalities with an exciting start that caught Chelsea off guard. Brunt’s deep cross was returned by Dawson letting McManaman skip past Luis only for Courtois in the Chelsea goal to save down low.
It didn’t take long for Albion’s impressive start to be rewarded. Lescott played a smart square pass for Berahino who swivelled and curled the ball into the bottom corner from 25 yards out.
Chelsea tried to hit back immediately. From an Albion corner, the visitors broke and Diego Costa fired in a low cross that found Eden Hazard. Joleon Lescott came from nowhere to somehow deflect the ball over and away from a corner.
Costa had been having running battles with Olsson and McAuley all game. After he had shoved over McAuley in the area, an off the ball incident saw the game explode into controversy. McAuley was fuming at Costa and had to be held back by Dawson. In the resulting melee, Fabregas fired the ball towards the referee and hit Brunt on the side off the head. Fletcher rushed over to the Spaniard who was quickly shown his marching orders by referee Jones. It was a moment of madness by Fabregas and he deserved to be given a red card. Costa and Fletcher were also shown yellow cards for their part in the incident.
The dismissal helped Albion. Whereas previously the likes of Morrison, Fletcher and the impeccable Yacob were camped on Albion’s 18-yard line, the midfield trio now had space to manoeuvre the ball and break forward when the Baggies won the ball back.
Costa was at it again moments later when he fell theatrically to the ground resulting in Olsson being booked. From the resulting free kick, Myhill did well to push away Luis’ thunderbolt.
Brunt came close to doubling Albion’s advantage after a neat pass from James Morrison before the referee blew the whistle for half time.
After the break
Following a few end-of-season drams of whisky in the stands, the Baggies were back at it on the pitch. Seconds in to the second half, Albion were awarded a penalty. Berahino did well to retrieve a long ball before finding himself on the end of fine reverse pass from Chris Brunt. Just as the striker was about to shoot, John Terry slid in and cleared the striker out. Penalty, but no further action for the defender? Surely that was a clear goalscoring opportunity. It was amazing he wasn’t even cautioned. Berahino cooly stepped up and fired the ball into the bottom corner.
The goal saw any intention Chelsea had of getting back into the game go as the Baggies bossed proceedings. The closest the champions had of a goal back was when Remy fired against the post from the edge of the area.
But back came the Baggies. Morrison tested Courtois with a long-range effort before a third goal for Albion. Sub Gardner and Brunt worked a short corner before the Northern Irishman fired a thunderbolt that Courtois could only parry into the net.
With thirty minutes still remaining, Albion kept their compact shape at the back but moved the ball excellently when we had the chance. Morrison and Fletcher were superb in finding space and driving Albion forward. Yacob excelled again in breaking up the play in front of Albion’s back four.
Myhill was called into action one more time when he saved at close range from Matic’s effort but the Baggies masterfully earned another clean sheet.
This was arguably Albion’ best and most emphatic performance of the season. From the first minute Albion were at it. Before Fabregas’ dismissal, Albion defended excellently and forced Chelsea back at every opportunity. After the red card, the Baggies really took hold of the game.
Questions have been asked about Pulis’ style of football. While these are valid at home, I’ve now watched us play superbly at home against Swansea, Southampton and Chelsea. The away form is still a concern, but Pulis has worked his magic again in guiding a struggling side to safety.
I’ve no doubt in my mind the club was heading back to relegation. Cast your mind back to late December when fans were forced to voice their frustrations from the stands at watching a rudderless ship heading toward the rocks. Captain Pulis received Albion’s SOS call and has earned a remarkable 29 points from 17 games in charge – an average of 1.70 points per game. Irvine averaged 0.89.
The arrival of captain Darren Fletcher should not be underestimated. Thank God West Ham pulled out of the deal. Fletcher was superb last night and his experience of controlling big games has helped the Baggies – including his reaction last night to the Fabregas incident. His reaction was right out of the Sir Alex Ferguson manual.
Victory last night also cemented Albion’s position as the best side in Midlands – the third time out of four seasons we’ve had such an accolade, if you can call it that. The football may have not have been pretty at time under Pulis, but last night it was fantastic.
COME ON YOU BAGGIES
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