Chelsea 2 West Brom 2: Guus Hiddink had undeniably improved Chelsea — but this game showed just how much more work the interim manager has to do if he is to have any hope of steering last season’s champions back towards the leading group.
The Dutchman claimed before this game that while the top four remains a possibility, that will be the club’s target.
He couldn’t really say anything else, and many more games like this and he will be spared the need to answer such an awkward question. There were signs of the progress Hiddink’s side have made, particularly when they went ahead first through Cesar Azpilicueta and then when Kenedy forced Gareth McAuley into an own goal. But the way they allowed West Brom to come back into the game confirmed the flaws.
Pedro was guilty of losing possession to allow Craig Gardner to level in the first-half and then Hiddink’s side were guilty of a lack of organisation when James McClean secured a point for the visitors five minutes from time.
And in between there were signs of the bad old days under Jose Mourinho, particularly from Diego Costa who conducted a running battle with several West Brom players as Chelsea’s frustration grew. The striker’s anger spilled over after the final whistle when he attempted to confront keeper Boaz Myhill and punched the players tunnel as he left the pitch.
Costa had played well, and at times had reason to feel frustrated, particularly when he was tripped by Claudio Yacob who somehow escaped a second yellow card. Instead they remain rooted in 16th place, just sis points clear of the bottom three.
Hiddink has made a lot of progress in his brief spell so far and remains unbeaten in five games in charge but it is clear there is still work to do. And Costa’s display will have done nothing to persuade the manager he does not need an additional striker to offer a different option to Costa.
Initially, the forward looked sharp and dangerous and had another, better opportunity to score later on in the first half. And heplayed a central role in Chelsea’s 20th minute opener, chesting down a long ball into the path of Willian who released Branislav Ivanovic on the right hand flank.The right-back delivered a low cross across the face of Boaz Myhill’s goal and left-back Azpilicueta was on hand to turn the ball home from close range.
West Brom had already shown they were capable of threatening Chelsea in the air with Craig Dawson and James McClean both testing Thibaut Courtois after out-jumping the Chelsea defence.
But the equaliser came after Darren Fletcher’s determined work that forced an error from Pedro, and when the ball broke loose for Gardner, the midfielder finished superbly from 25 yards out.
Hiddink’s side moved through the gears in the second period dominating territory and possession for long periods. The pressure was building on West Brom and they eventually wilted in the 73rd minute when Willian drilled a low cross towards the near post that was deflected in off McAuley.
That at least calmed Chelsea’s anger at Yacob escaping more serious punishment after tripping Costa as the forward attempted to keep pace with an Oscar-led break. Tony Pulis’ decision to withdraw the midfielder immediately spoke volumes and only added to Chelsea’s sense of grievance.
But it was to West Brom’s credit that they kept going and they eventually got their reward when a corner broke for McClean on the edge of the box.
The midfielder drilled a low shot that found its way into the corner and ensured Hiddink’s hope of firing up Chelsea’s top four challenge stalled once again.
Courtois 6; Ivanovic 6, Zouma 5, Terry 5, Azpilicueta 7; Mikel 6, Fabregas 6 (Matic 78, 6); Willian 8, Oscar 6, Pedro 4 (Kenedy 46, 6); Costa 8.
WEST BROM (4-4-1-1):
Myhill ;6 Dawson 7, McAuley 6, Olsson 7, Evans 6; Brunt 8, Yacob 5 (Berahino 59, 6), Fletcher 8, McClean 8, Morrison 6 (Gardner 6, 7); Rondon 7 (Sessegnon 67, 6).
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