Rafa revels in Chelsea atmosphere
Published 03/03/2013 | 07:31
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez praised the Stamford Bridge atmosphere and the performance of his players after making a victorious return home following his midweek criticism of Blues supporters.
Demba Ba's 28th-minute goal saw Chelsea claim a 1-0 win over West Brom to move back above Tottenham to third place in the Barclays Premier League for 24 hours at least, depending on the result of Sunday's North London derby.
Chelsea's fifth win in seven matches came at the end of a week in which Benitez's criticisms of the Blues fans and his title of 'interim' boss following the FA Cup win at Middlesbrough. But the Spaniard said: "I was today really pleased with the performance on the pitch and the atmosphere was really good."
He added: "It was a great performance. The team, for 75 minutes, were in control, good play, good passes and great opportunities. The (West Brom) keeper (Ben Foster) was man of the match, for me. That means a lot."
Much of the focus was on the Spaniard after his midweek deviation from measured politician to ranting rabble-rouser. Due to his prior association with Liverpool, Benitez's temporary appointment was never a popular one, but he hoped the crowd would use their energies to back the team.
They came with handmade banners - "The Interim One" and "Rafa Benitez we're just not that inter im" among them - and chanted the names of his immediate predecessor Roberto Di Matteo and Jose Mourinho, who could yet return to west London as the Spaniard's successor.
The Spaniard, who remains confident of fulfilling his brief of securing Champions League football next term, said: "The main thing is the team. We needed three points. Today they (the fans) were behind the team, everybody was happy, the players were playing very good football, getting three points for a good position in the table."
West Brom boss Steve Clarke insisted the performance of Foster was nothing out of the ordinary and said it would have impressed the watching England manager Roy Hodgson ahead of this month's matches with San Marino and Montenegro.
"Ben plays like that week in, week out," Clarke said. "He's probably made Roy happy because he's made himself available for selection and it gives Roy a nice problem."
Clarke was also keen to move on from the furore surrounding substitute Peter Odemwingie, who came on to play just a few short miles from where he had hoped to now be plying his trade - QPR. Clarke said: "The Peter Odemwingie saga for us is over. It's finished. He's a key member of our squad and he's got a big part to play for the rest of the season."