Selfless striker Long wins points and plaudits
By Ian Bayley
West Brom 2 Chelsea 1
Peter Odemwingie paid tribute to Shane Long’s courage after the West Brom striker kept his personal anguish a secret from his team-mates.
Long rode an emotional rollercoaster at the Hawthorns after the death of his grandmother last week. He revealed a T-shirt which read ‘Rest in Peace Nan’ after he netted the opening goal.
But it was only afterwards that his team-mates learned what he had been through.
“We wondered why he was a bit quiet,” said Odemwingie. “After the match we were celebrating with some music in the dressing room and he wasn’t with us. I asked him, ‘are you not happy?’ and he still didn’t tell me what had happened. I learned only when I began doing interviews.
“He deserves all the respect for playing because it was a big game for us and he was there working hard and playing very well. A lot of credit to him for that.”
Albion boss Steve Clarke had offered Long the option of skipping the match on compassionate grounds. He chose to play, though dashed away immediately afterwards to return to Tipperary for the funeral.
But not before he had opened the scoring for Albion with a 10th-minute header — his fourth goal of the season — and crossed for Odemwingie to score the second-half winner after Eden Hazard’s equaliser just before half time.
Long troubled the Chelsea defence all afternoon — particularly the centre-back pairing of Gary Cahill and David Luiz — and was a deserved recipient of the sponsors’ man of the match award, even though Albion goalkeeper Boaz Myhill laid equally strong claims by keeping out Daniel Sturridge twice to deny the visitors a point.
The result heaped more worry on to the shoulders of Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo ahead of a big week for the club. He has seen Chelsea’s four-point lead at the top of the table crumble over the last four games and they now trail new leaders Manchester City, who they meet at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, by four points.
Before that, Di Matteo’s team face a critical Champions League trip to Turin to face Juventus, a game the trophy holders can ill afford to lose.
Chelsea have not kept a clean sheet for eight games, and after their defensive fragility was exposed once again, Di Matteo hinted he may temporarily abandon the attacking style — built around his midfield trio of Juan Mata, Hazard and Oscar — for a more defensive outlook.
That could lead to one of the three being left out of the starting line-up in Turin and there must also be a question mark over Fernando Torres’s place after another ineffective performance.
Di Matteo admitted he is puzzled as to why Chelsea’s form has dipped.
“It is very difficult to explain. It is not just one year, it has been three years in a row,” said Di Matteo. “I don’t think it is psychological and I don’t think it is just an individual issue. As a team we have to be better defending. You don’t defend with one player, you defend with the whole team. It is defensive organisation that we need to look at and maybe I have to do some changes.”
WEST BROM: Myhill 8; Jones 6, Tamas 6, Ridgewell 6, Olsson 6; Morrison 7 (Dorrans 70, 5), Mulumbu 7, Yacob 6, Gera 6 (Brunt 70, 6), Odemwingie 7; Long 8 (Rosenberg 80).
CHELSEA: Cech 6; Azpilicueta 6, Luiz 5, Cahill 6, Bertrand 6; Romeu 5 (Oscar 62, 6), Mikel 6 (Ramires 80); Moses 6, Hazard 6, Sturridge 6; Torres 5 (Mata 62, 7).
Referee: Michael Oliver 6.
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