West Brom 1-0 Chelsea: Daily Mirror match report
Published 21:37 04/03/12 By Ralph Ellis
At the requiem for a manager out of his depth, they serenaded Andre Villas-Boas with The Lord’s My Shepherd.
And after another bankrupt performance from Chelsea, it’s good night from hymn.
Ominously, when the Hawthorns reverberated moments earlier to the Grim Reaper’s anthem “You’re Getting Sacked In The Morning”, some of the visitors from West London had joined in.
And when lost soul AVB boarded the team coach afterwards, a solitary picket who had waited an hour to register his protest shouted: “I hope you do get sacked in the morning.”
Since the nation is descending into a fog of acronyms, abbreviations and text message shorthand, resistance is futile – so here goes.
OMG, AVB @ WBA = P45.
But if this monument to indifference was a bunch of players fighting to save their manager’s job, heaven help Villas-Boas if he ever takes charge of a team laying down their arms.
While the dead man walking shuffled off to await the postman’s knock, Chelsea’s coterie of senior pros – relics from a glorious era of trophies and mega-money – were a throwback to that classic line from Blackadder Goes Forth.
“Don’t worry, my boy, if you should falter, remember that Captain Darling and I are right behind you,” blusters General Melchett a safe distance from the slaughter.
“Yes,” replies Blackadder. “About 35 miles behind.”
Chelsea are investigating a smoke bomb which forced them to evacuate part of their Cobham training ground, but no smoke and mirrors were required to distort the axe which put AVB out of his misery yesterday.
The facts were damning – three wins from 12 Premier League games and leaders Manchester City are now 20 points ahead.
But as another decent man is skewered on the altar of Roman Abramovich’s vanity project, a harsh truth awaits the next Blackadder at Stamford Bridge.
It won’t be caretaker Roberto Di Matteo, who holds the fort until the end of the season, but sooner or later, someone has to pension off Chelsea’s old lags.
Sacking AVB may silence the gripes of wrath in dressing room cliques for now, but it doesn’t remove the nettle’s sting.
Apart from his injury-time miss, after a trademark arrival late in the box like a stealth bomber, skipper Frank Lampard was more anonymous than the man with no name in Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns.
Ashley Cole was carted off, unable to put any weight on his right ankle, in the dying seconds. And although Didier Drogba’s pass of the match was wasted by Daniel Sturridge, he is a warrior with his greatest battles behind him.
Villas-Boas shouldered the burden of change at a club stuck in the Jose Mourinho era with supreme dignity.
But as he reflected on defeat he cut a desolate, resigned figure speaking the language of the doomed: “We all understand we weren’t good enough today... we all know it’s very, very bad and we have to reflect on it... it’s been a bad run of games for us, a bad run of results, which is punishing our belief.”
Albion – vibrant, inventive and, most tellingly, technically superior – were good value for Gareth McAuley’s 82nd-minute opportunism, which ended a run of 15 Chelsea wins without reply against them.
West Brom manager Roy Hodgson, who knows how it feels to be lampooned and harpooned after his treatment at Liverpool, sealed Mick McCarthy’s fate by winning 5-1 at Molineux last month, and he took little pleasure in being the harbinger of doom again.
Hodgson rejected the notion that Chelsea were merely going through the motions, insisting: “It’s a dangerous assumption that the players weren’t playing for Andre.
“That would be very cruel on him and it would be a damned sight more cruel on us. We won because, for long periods, we were every bit as good, if not better, than them.”
If Chelsea win at Birmingham in tomorrow’s FA Cup replay, turn around a 3-1 deficit against Napoli in the Champions League and scramble fourth in the table, history may yet judge AVB’s legacy more kindly than the condemned man marched to the exercise yard for a debrief with the firing squad.
But somehow The Lord’s My Shepherd – Albion’s adoptive refrain – was an appropriate soundtrack for Villas-Boas on his last stand.
It’s the psalm old story – another Chelsea boss bites the dust, but the real dunces are the men who appointed him.