Didier Drogba ensured Chelsea enjoyed an unusually trouble-free afternoon at Stamford Bridge by setting up a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Friday.
The Ivory Coast international, restored to the starting line-up in tandem with Nicolas Anelka, struck early to put Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side in control in west London, before Frank Lampard completed a comfortable victory late in the first half.
Victory saw Chelsea move briefly back to the top of the English Premier League before Liverpool, who beat Bolton later in the day, returned to top spot.
Scolari, for his part, was just grateful to have avoided another slip-up on home soil.
His team have contrived to leak 15 points at Stamford Bridge this term, a record that has left them reliant on superb away form just to keep pace at the league summit.
While few expected basement club Albion to further dent that home record, this was still a welcome result for Chelsea’s manager.
Scolari will also be reassured at the sight of Drogba and Anelka working well in tandem. The French striker might have been in fine form this term, but Chelsea can appear one-dimensional when deprived of Drogba’s muscle and menace.
His return here for just his second league start of what has been an injury and suspension-ravaged season was decisive and he wasted no time in reminding Chelsea’s supporters what they have been missing, with a third minute header that put the Blues ahead.
True, he was helped by West Brom defending that bordered on the bewildering — the visitors allowed Joe Cole ample time and space to curl in a delicious cross from the right, while Gianni Zuiverloon was out-muscled far too easily by Drogba at the back post. Nonetheless, it was the sort of meat-and-potatoes goal that is notably absent from Anelka’s repertoire.
The early strike calmed whatever nerves Chelsea may have harbored, although it did not spark the expected deluge from Drogba. Instead, it was Ashley Cole causing West Brom’s most pounding headaches. In the 38th minute, the England left-back, rampaging forward to his heart’s content, was picked out on the left of the penalty area and struck a sweet left-footed shot that cannoned into the post via Scott Carson’s fingertips.
The goalkeeper scrambled to his feet just in time to collect Cole’s follow-up, which appeared to be scudding wide regardless. Cole also had a crucial role in Chelsea’s decisive second in first-half injury time. Latching on to Joe Cole’s clever lofted pass, the defender scurried into the area, only for Zuiverloon to whip the ball from his toes. Lampard scooped up possession, evaded the lunging challenge of Paul Robinson and dinked over Carson. That effectively ruled out any chance of an Albion recovery and the only issue up for debate after halftime was the margin of Chelsea’s victory.
Mercifully for Albion, the hosts were in a benevolent mood. Lampard should have done better than chip tamely into Carson’s hands moments after the re-start, while Drogba wasted two golden opportunities to add to his personal tally. The striker blazed wide at the near post and then drove straight at Carson after neat approach play from Anelka had put him clear in the area.
Drogba was withdrawn soon afterwards and Chelsea were in control for the final 20 minutes.