Victorious Benitez revels in Bridge atmosphere

Interim manager Rafael Benitez praised the Stamford Bridge atmosphere and the his players after a winning return home after his criticism of Chelsea supporters.

Angry fans at Stamford Bridge.

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 led to speculation his caretaker appointment could come to a premature end.

"I was today [Saturday] really pleased with the performance on the pitch and the atmosphere was really good," said Benitez, who was smiling broadly afterwards.

"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.

Benitez anticipated questions over the atmosphere.

"We had a lot of attempts, very good football, the atmosphere was good," he said.

"Before you start asking about the fans and the reaction, I will say I was really pleased with the fans behind the team.

"The players played with more confidence and it was clear it was very positive."

There is recent precedent for a change of Blues manager following losses to West Brom, with the Baggies the final Premier League opponents for both Andre Villas-Boas and Di Matteo.

Many wondered if this would be Benitez's last stand, but he expects to see out his contract until the end of the season.

Chelsea will then be searching for a new manager once more, the 10th in 10 years under owner Roman Abramovich. There were loud chants in the second half for Mourinho, who has been linked with a return, but Benitez would not address questions directly about his old adversary.

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 [Saturday] 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.

"We have to wait and see what happens [in the North London derby] tomorrow [Sunday]."

Benitez played down the omission of captain John Terry, insisting the defender is fit, and the spurned chances which meant the score was not as comfortable as it might have been.

Rather than bemoaning his side's lack of cutting edge, with Oscar most culpable, he praised the performance of Foster, who has made himself available for England.

"We had a lot of chances, he was really good and we couldn't stop him," he said.

"We created the opportunities to score more goals, to kill the game. We didn't do it.

"Still we were defending well, clean sheet. I'm really pleased with the response of the players."

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 reluctant to comment on Benitez's situation and 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: "Listen, 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."

Odemwingie was to the fore late on, but Albion could not find the equaliser.

"We stayed in the game until the last minute but couldn't quite get the clear-cut chance that would've got us a point," Clarke added.



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