Chelsea's frustrating draw vs. West Brom nullifies optimism under Hiddink
Chelsea stuttered to a disappointing 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge against a West Brom side who refused to lay down and accept defeat despite twice falling behind the hosts.
The Blues were well on top when Cesar Azpilicueta opened the scoring on 20 minutes with a well-crafted goal, but the Baggies battled back to level just after the half-hour mark when a calamitous error by Pedro eventually resulted in Craig Gardner beating Thibaut Courtois from distance.
Interim boss Guus Hiddink withdrew Pedro at half-time and sent on Kenedy, and the Brazilian youngster pressured Gareth McAuley into turning in the ever-excellent Willian's cross in the 73rd minute. West Brom had no intention of giving up on the contest, though, and showed character to battle back and equalise through James McClean with less than five minutes remaining.
The draw, which leaves Chelsea entrenched in the lower-middle confines of the Premier League, certainly nullified the new-found optimism that Hiddink had initially brought to Stamford Bridge following the sacking of Jose Mourinho. The erratic nature of the Blues' performance did little to convince supporters that the London club is heading back to the promised land any time soon.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Thibaut Courtois, 5 -- A somewhat worrying performance from the towering Belgium international, whose positive command of the penalty area was offset negatively by poor handling. Did make a couple of decent saves from headers by Gardner and McClean but might have done better when beaten by somewhat speculative shots from both players.
DF Branislav Ivanovic, 5 -- Started brightly enough and rolled back the years with a swashbuckling cross from the right that was turned in by Azpilicueta for Chelsea's opener, but struggled thereafter from a defensive perspective as West Brom counter-attacked with purpose.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- Nimble in attack and sturdy in defence, Azpilicueta was the pick of Chelsea's backline. Showed pace and awareness to steal in at the left post to turn in Ivanovic's measured cross.
DF John Terry, 5 -- Stable early on but focus on defensive matters was lost at times as the struggle to maintain order, in particular within Chelsea's ranks, made the Blues skipper's task more difficult.
DF Kurt Zouma, 5 -- Similar to Terry, looked to be well in control of the game, showing a good mix of mobility and physicality. Lost his bearings on several occasions, though, as West Brom battled back and appeared to lose a little confidence after being left horribly exposed by Pedro in the build-up to the visitors' first equaliser.
MF John Obi Mikel, 5 -- Yet another Chelsea player who was bossing the game for the first 30 minutes but faded once West Brom equalised.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 6 -- Pulled Chelsea's midfield strings with reasonable aplomb and linked up well with Costa in particular. Initiated the move that yielded the Blues' first goal and made some precision passes but was less effective in supporting Mikel's more-defensive-orientated duties.
MF Willian, 8 -- Once again the indefatigable Brazilian midfield dynamo was Chelsea's best player. Teed up the ball for Ivanovic to cross to Azpilicueta for the Blues' opener and was the architect in chief of McAuley's own goal that restored his side's lead.
MF Oscar, 6 -- Occasionally impressive link-up play was tempered by what looked like an over-willingness to go to ground. Was keen enough to track back and didn't give up on the contest as West Brom battled and battled.
MF Pedro, 2 -- In a season that has seen many below-par performances from Chelsea players, Pedro's 45 first-half minutes probably rank as the worst. Lacked vision and direction and was grossly negligent when caught in possession by Darren Fletcher, an error from which West Brom would score and take the wind out of the home side's sails.
FW Diego Costa, 6 -- Bristled with intent early on, but squandered a couple of decent chances to score. Then was drawn into to the more thuggish side of the contest and spent too much time in the face of the referee as tempers frayed. Unsurprisingly booked for an ill-timed challenge on Gardner.
MF Kenedy, 7 -- Replaced the appalling Pedro at half-time and immediately offered Chelsea more options going forward. Was a constant threat to West Brom's backline and it would have been his name on the score sheet and not McAuley had the Baggies defender not deflected in Willian's cross.
MF Nemanja Matic, NR -- Replaced Fabregas late on but with little noticeable effect.
Mark Worrall has penned several books on the history and success of Chelsea Football Club. You can follow him on Twitter @gate17marco.