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His heart might forever beat Blue, but Steve Clarke dealt a huge blow to his former club on Saturday afternoon with his West Bromwich Albion side beating Chelsea 2-1 at the Hawthorns to keep their incredible start to the season going, moving to within a point of the Blues in the Premier League table. With Manchester City winning their game at home to Aston Villa 5-0, Chelsea fell 4 points behind the early pace-setters as their win-less run in the Premier League stretched to an unlikely four games.
West Brom continued to be this season's surprise package with Shane Long putting the Baggies ahead with an excellent header in 10th minute before Eden Hazard gave Chelsea belief that a comeback could be on the cards with a header of his own in the 39th minute, albeit deflected in off Billy Jones. The game though proved to be a tale of three headers with Nigerian forward Peter Odemwingie restoring the Baggies' lead early in the second half before Boaz Myhill in goal produced an excellent performance to deny the Blues anything at all from their trip to the Midlands.
There were a few surprises in the starting line-ups of both sides with West Brom giving their big match player Zoltan Gera a start, with Chris Brunt surprisingly left on the bench. Peter Odemwingie returned to the starting eleven after having been benched for the trip to Wigan last week. Shane Long led the line for the Baggies despite suggestions that he was carrying a hamstring inury, while Yacob and Mulumbu sat in front of the back four in an attempt to keep Chelsea's creative fulcrum in check.
That Blue fulcrum though was missing some key ingredients as Roberto di Matteo, who not so long ago was the West Brom manager, made changes galore to his side, looking to take advantage of the squad's depth after the midweek international break. Gary Cahill partnered David Luiz in the center of defence, while Cesar Azpilicueta and Ryan Bertrand started as the full-backs. Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic were both available for selection, but Di Matteo chose to leave them on the bench. Oriol Romeu also got a start alongside John Obi Mikel, while Ramires joined Juan Mata and Oscar on a very expensive bench. Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge lined-up on either side of Fernando Torres, while Eden Hazard got a rare opportunity to impress as the central playmaker.
Unsurprisingly it was Chelsea who made the early running with Ryan Bertrand denied a goal by Liam Ridgewell, who was on the line, covering alongside Myhill. Moments later, the Baggies had the ball in the back of the net up the other end with Shane Long heading in James Morrison's cross at the far post.
West Brom played well after going a goal infront, and despite Chelsea seeing a lot more of the ball, they weren't really creating much. Victor Moses was the Blues' biggest threat going forward as the powerful Nigerian did well to get past defenders on the edge of the box, but his crosses were invariably being cut out.
Eden Hazard though brought Chelsea level, showing his prowess in the air by rising at the far post to turn in Azpilicueta's cross on 39 minutes. There was a touch of good fortune about the goal with the Spanish full-back not necessarily intending to find the Belgian forward, and it appeared that Myhill would have indeed saved Hazard's header had it not been deflected in off right-back Billy Jones.
West Brom made their way through a testing period to ensure they went into half-time level pegging, but were under pressure immediately in the second half with Sturridge denied by Boaz Myhill on what was to be the first of many occasions.
Against the run of play, West Brom took the lead with Long this time turning provider for Odemwingie, who headed the ball in at the near post despite having Bertrand for company.
Chelsea responeded to going down by bringing on Mata and Oscar for the ineffectual Fernando Torres and Romeu. The changes worked as desired with the Blues beginning to boss play and laying seige to the Baggies goal. Mata continued to be in terrific form, and appeared to have found a like-minded soul in Sturridge, who was making some terrific runs behind the center-backs, now that he was deployed in his desired central role.
However, Myhill was in inspired form, and kept out wave after wave of Chelsea attacks. While Sturridge's movement and intelligent runs were admirable, his finishing was not, though Myhill deserves just as much credit for keeping Chelsea at bay. However, the Sturridge of old came back to haunt Chelsea late in the game when the young forward shot wide when Mata was in a better position to finish, and would have surely tapped the ball home if only the England international had squared the ball to him.
West Brom held on for the three points, and moved back up to 4th place with Everton going down surprisingly at Reading. Amazingly the Baggies are just 5 points from the top of the table, and while Steve Clarke will no doubt manage expectations at the Hawthorns, a Europa League place may not be beyond them if they can continue their stellar run of form for a while longer.
Chelsea on the other hand clearly had an eye on their midweek game against Juventus in the Champions League, and perhaps the rest will do some of their key players some good. They will be relieved that Manchester United lost away to Norwich later in the evening, minimizing the damage of this defeat.
West Brom: Myhill, Jones, Olsson, Tamas, Ridgewell, Morrison, Yacob, Mulumbu, Gera, Long, Odemwingie. Subs: Luke Daniels, Reid, Popov, Rosenberg, Brunt, Dorrans, Fortune.
Chelsea: Cech, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz, Bertrand, Romeu, Mikel, Hazard, Sturridge, Torres, Moses. Subs: Turnbull, Ivanovic, Cole, Ramires, Mata, Oscar, Marin.
Score: West Brom 2-1 Chelsea (Long 10', Hazard 39', Odemwingie 50')
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