Hazard spares Blues blushes as Baggies denied victory

Posted by Mark Worrall

A last gasp Eden Hazard penalty spared Chelsea's blushes and preserved manager Jose Mourinho's unbeaten home Premier League record as West Brom came within 30 seconds of beating the Blues in a dramatic 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.

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- Evans: Penalty blights brilliant Baggies

When Samuel Eto'o had given Chelsea the lead with a trademark poacher's goal on the stroke of half-time, there was no sense of the drama that would follow in the second period when the Baggies rallied strongly, equalising through a Shane Long header and then taking the lead when Stephane Sessegnon beat Petr Cech with a soft shot that the Blues keeper should have saved comfortably.

West Brom had looked good value for their 2-1 lead and the visiting manager Steve Clarke, a former Stamford Bridge favourite who'd learned his trade as Mourinho's assistant during the Special One's first stint in SW6, looked likely to put another dent in the title ambitions of his former employers right up until the last minute of injury time when Ramires was adjudged by referee Andre Marriner to have been clattered to the ground in the Baggies' penalty area by Steven Reid. With a degree of noire theatre, Marriner hesitated before pointing to the spot from whence Eden Hazard coolly dispatched the ball beyond Boaz Myhill to earn Chelsea a point they scarcely deserved.

There was a certain sense of irony that it was Hazard who would come to Mourinho and Chelsea's rescue given the events of the past week or so. Having been nominated as one of his manager's '11 mistakes' following the debacle that was last Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Newcastle, the Belgium international had been dropped for the midweek Champions League game with Schalke after having gone AWOL in France where he'd decamped to watch his former team Lille play on Sunday. "He went to a foreign country when he shouldn't have," explained an irate Mourinho. "On top of that he lost his passport which didn't allow him to be back in training, which is obviously unacceptable."

Fortunately, for the Chelsea manager, as much as everyone else connected with the Stamford Bridge club, omission from one game was deemed punishment enough. Hazard was restored to the Blues' starting lineup for the visit of West Brom and duly responded by creating the first goal for Eto'o before rippling the net himself at the death.

In a dour, insipid first-half that was as drab, damp and grey as the London weather, Chelsea labored to make any impression on a well-drilled West Brom defence that effectively smothered any attempts at creativity by the home side. Having looked the liveliest of a Blues forward midfield trio which also included Willian and Oscar, it was Hazard who drew a smart save from Baggies keeper Myhill just as referee Marriner was checking his watch in injury time. Myhill parried the ball into the path of West Brom defender Liam Ridgewell who, clearly half-asleep like most of the crowd, failed to spot wily predator Eto'o stealing into the box. Failing to clear his lines, Ridgewell could only look on in horror as Eto'o dispossessed him and scored.

Whatever words of wisdom Clarke imparted on his charges during the lemon break clearly had the desired effect, as come the second-half the Baggies stepped up the tempo of their game soon going close to an equalizer when striker Long got the measure of Gary Cahill in the air in beating the Blues defender to a Morgan Amalfitano cross only to see his sharp header hit the post. On the hour mark however, Long wasn't to be denied. Having been a close spectator when Petr Cech brilliantly saved a Gareth McAuley header, Long rose above John Terry and Frank Lampard to nod home the loose ball.

Mourinho sent on Demba Ba for Lampard and West Brom's players looked as impressed as the home support. Within minutes, Ridgewell, perhaps conscious of his part in gifting Eto'o his goal, tigerishly took the ball off Branislav Ivanovic much to the vexation of Mourinho who thought Ivanovic had been fouled. Breaking down the left, Ridgewell found Sessegnon on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area and the West Brom forward swept the ball under Cech and into the Blues net. It was a truly shocking goal for the home side to concede and as the Baggies players celebrated, the visiting supporters gleefully began singing, 'you're getting sacked in the morning.' Mourinho, the focus of the West Brom fans' chant, looked outraged.

A double Mourinho substitution soon followed with John Obi Mikel replacing Cesar Azpilicueta and Juan Mata replacing a tired looking Oscar. Chelsea surged forward but were constantly thwarted in their attempts to break down the West Brom defence, and as the clock ticked down it seemed that the Baggies would secure their first win at Stamford Bridge since 1978. But it wasn't to be, in the fourth minute of injury time a cool, calm, composed Hazard saw to that.

Mourinho's unbeaten home Premier League record now stands at 66 games, but the Chelsea manager will take cold comfort from that fact. Today the Blues were lucky to get a point, and with the teams around them, notably Liverpool and Southampton, securing all three, Mourinho would be well-advised to use the forthcoming international break to put his strategies under the microscope because on today's showing, and last weekend's, he will need to come up with something truly special if Chelsea are to regain the initiative in the race for the title.


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