LONDON • A relaxed-looking Antonio Conte strode round the Stamford Bridge pitch on Monday shaking hands and congratulating his Chelsea players on their 3-0 drubbing of West Bromwich Albion.
The Italian, who was edging closer to joining the ranks of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's "dead men walking" after successive Premier League defeats, had just led his side back into the Champions League places.
Now, pressure relieved a little, he could turn his attention to the FA Cup against Hull on Friday and an enticing Champions League encounter with Barcelona next week.
The Stamford Bridge crowd sang his name throughout the game, lending him the support he felt he had perhaps not received from his bosses, despite winning the Premier League title in his first season.
"I have to thank the fans because they show me great support because (there are) speculations and rumours about me," Conte said.
"To feel this atmosphere around me is very important. It's very important to feel the people are appreciating my work here in Chelsea."
The champions had lost games they were expected to win at a canter against Bournemouth and Watford, and Conte admitted that confidence was low.
"We must be satisfied to win the game to get three points. We can play better, we can play with more confidence," he said. "After two bad defeats I think our confidence went down and we started the game a bit defeated. Then after we scored we controlled the game."
Belgium's Eden Hazard contributed two goals in a characteristically sharp performance. Nigerian Victor Moses scored the other.
With the victory, the Blues climbed into fourth on 53 points, one behind third-placed Liverpool and two behind Manchester United in second. Tottenham are a point behind Chelsea in the race for the three remaining Champions League spots behind leaders Manchester City.
Conte added that he was encouraged by the gradual return to form of his strikers. New signing Olivier Giroud, still recovering from a muscular problem after joining from Arsenal, set up Hazard's first goal.
Substitute Alvaro Morata, returning after a month's layoff with a back problem, tested West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster with a stinging shot.
"It's important that they play games to find their best physical condition," Conte said. "We must be pleased for the Giroud performance. For sure he needs to improve to go into our way of football, but to have a point of reference like Olivier is very important.
Chelsea have won all four Premier League meetings against West Brom under Antonio Conte without conceding a single goal.
Eden Hazard has scored more Premier League goals against West Brom than any other team in the competition.
"We must be pleased because in the same night we found also Morata. I think he played very well with great personality and spirit."
Chelsea will need all the firepower they can muster over the next three weeks with games against Hull and Barcelona followed by away league fixtures against United and City.
"The games coming up, looking at the calendar, this is our period," said Conte. "You've got to win them and that's something we haven't managed to do for a long time."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE