Rafael Benitez insisted the ugly scenes sparked by Frank Lampard’s 200th goal for Chelsea in the 2-0 win over West Ham United should not overshadow the England midfielder’s landmark achievement.
Lampard finally reached his double-century for the Blues after a month stuck on 199 with a first-half header against his former club at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
However, the 34-year-old’s goal was greeted with anger by West Ham’s travelling supporters as Lampard and John Terry celebrated the milestone in front of the away end.
Terry, who started the match on the substitutes’ bench, had already responded to taunts from the east London club’s fans as he warmed up in front of them by bending over to aim his backside toward them.
The atmosphere turned even uglier when Terry and Lampard, who have been hated by West Ham supporters since leaving for Chelsea in 2001, were greeted with missiles thrown onto the pitch following the 19th-minute goal.
It was claimed Terry was hit by a coin and fourth official Howard Webb told Benitez to instruct Chelsea’s substitutes to warm up away from the West Hams fans after that.
Blues interim manager Benitez was adamant the unsavoury incident should not detract from Lampard’s achievement, which moved him within two goals of Bobby Tambling’s club record.
“When you score 200 goals you don’t think too much about where you are celebrating, but after that you think it would have been better to be in another part [of the stadium],” Benitez said.
“We said it would be better if they do the warm-up on the other side. Howard Webb told us. I don’t know if it was his decision,” he said.
West Ham are only six points above the relegation zone after their fifth defeat in their past seven matches, but boss Sam Allardyce refused to be downcast, insisting instead that few teams could have lived with Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, who laid on Lampard’s goal and then netted the second with a fine finish early in the second half.
“Chelsea were the better team,” Allardyce said. “It was tough afternoon against talented players, Mata and Hazard were both outstanding. You can’t defend against that.”
Chelsea snatched third place in the Premier League from faltering London rivals Tottenham Hotspur whose 1-0 loss at home to Fulham opened the door for the Blues.
Spurs were bidding to tighten their grip on third place in the table and Gareth Bale had an early header cleared off the line by Sascha Riether.
However, the hosts lost Michael Dawson to injury at halftime and then saw former striker Dimitar Berbatov claim the game’s only goal in the 52nd minute.
Coming in the wake of last weekend’s 3-2 loss at Liverpool, Spurs’ defeat left them a point below Chelsea and four points above fifth-placed north London rivals Arsenal, both of whom have a game in hand.
At the other end of the table, Arouna Kone struck in the final minute to give Wigan Athletic a 2-1 win at home to Newcastle United that injected fresh momentum into their quest to escape relegation.
Jean Beausejour’s first Wigan goal put Roberto Martinez’s men ahead in the 19th minute, but Italian fullback Davide Santon drilled home an equalizer in the 72nd minute.
Then, in the 90th minute, Kone lashed the ball into the roof of the net following a goalmouth scramble to leave Wigan three points from safety with a game in hand on fourth-bottom Aston Villa.
The game had threatened to be overshadowed by a horrendous, knee-high challenge from Wigan’s Callum McManaman on visiting defender Massadio Haidara.
McManaman escaped punishment for the foul, but Haidara had to be stretchered off and Newcastle coach John Carver was sent to the stands after losing his temper at the halftime whistle.
Relegation-threatened Sunderland failed to capitalize on the dismissal of Norwich City goalkeeper Mark Bunn as they were held to a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light.
After Wes Hoolahan headed Norwich in front in the 26th minute, the visitors lost Bunn to a straight red card when he handled the ball outside his area.
Craig Gardner levelled for Sunderland with a 40th-minute penalty after a handball by Sebastien Bassong, but Sunderland could find no way past the visitors’ 10 men in the second half.