Chelsea's Ba downs Baggies to silence Benitez critics

LONDON (AFP) - Demba Ba eased the pressure on Rafael Benitez as the Senegal striker fired Chelsea to a 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday in the first game since the Blues' interim manager criticised his club's supporters and hierarchy.

Benitez had been widely condemned after launching into a passionate defence of his own position directly after victory at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on Wednesday.

The former Liverpool and Inter Milan manager had claimed the club should never have gone public with the fact that he was only there in an 'interim' capacity until the end of the season, and insisted the fans who have been barracking him from the moment he succeeded Roberto di Matteo in November were not helping the team.

But those who were expecting a volatile afternoon at Stamford Bridge were disappointed as Chelsea dominated and the supporters only occasionally turned on Benitez, who saw his team climb up to third place above Tottenham in the Premier League table.

Benitez had timed his emergence from the tunnel perfectly, arriving when Albion manager Steve Clarke's name was announced.

The Scot was a popular figure at Chelsea as a player, making 421 appearances until leaving in 1998, and was also assistant manager for a while.

Benitez was certainly quick to shake Clarke's hand.

The anti-Benitez faction at the Bridge did manage to poke fun at him via banners however.

One read 'Rafa - we're just not that inter im' while another made a disparaging comparison with former manager Jose Mourinho by describing the Spaniard as 'the interim one'.

The game was only a few minutes old before the first derogatory chant began, telling the former Liverpool manager that he was 'not wanted here'.

England manager Roy Hodgson was in the stands to watch Albion goalkeeper Ben Foster, who has made it known that he is now willing to be considered for his country once again.

Foster made two saves to deny Oscar in between a free-kick from Steven Reid at the other end that was tipped over by Petr Cech, and saw an effort from Juan Mata fly narrowly wide.

He was also behind efforts from Ba and made an excellent reaction save when David Luiz's powerful free-kick took a deflection off the Albion wall.

He was caught out for Ba's 28th-minute opener however, moving to his back post but failing to get there as Luiz stole in and headed the ball across the six-yard box for Ba to apply a simple finish.

Benitez hardly reacted to the goal but will have been satisfied by the way his side had imposed themselves.

The second half saw Frank Lampard find the net early on but Mata had already been flagged offside in the build-up.

Branislav Ivanovic did the same from a free-kick move minutes later but that had been taken too early for referee Kevin Friend's liking and was also disallowed.

Foster also made a close-range save to deny Ba before referee Friend made a big call on the hour mark when Eden Hazard went down in the box under Jonas Olsson's challenge, ruling that the Belgian had gone down too easily to merit a penalty.

Chelsea's one-goal lead was put in jeopardy by James Morrison's free-kick to the back post but the danger was eventually averted and, at the other end, Foster was required to make another save to deny Oscar, who had been given a clear sight of goal by Ba's knock-down.

Cech was required to keep his side ahead however, with two saves in quick succession.

First he palmed a fierce free-kick by Peter Odenwingie over the bar and then had to react when the corner was deflected his way, but Chelsea held on to record a narrow victory.

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