Baggies sign off home campaign in style
SAIDO Berahino bagged a brace as superb Albion dismantled Barclays Premier League champions Chelsea 3-0 in an action-packed final home encounter of 2014/15 at a buoyant Hawthorns.
The Baggies striker opened the scoring in true style in just the ninth minute, allowing the ball to cross his path before firing a stunning, first-time effort beyond the reach of Thibaut Courtois into the corner of the net from 25 yards.
Chelsea were reduced to ten men just before the half-hour mark as Cesc Fabregas saw red for kicking the ball at the head of Chris Brunt, coming as referee Mike Jones was booking Diego Costa following a melee in the home penalty area.
And it was the hosts who doubled their advantage just two minutes into the second half as Berahino was brought down by John Terry in the box. He duly rifled home his 20th goal of the season in all competitions – becoming the first Baggies player to do so since Kevin Phillips in 2007/08.
Albion fans were soon in dreamland on the hour mark as Chris Brunt received substitute Craig Gardner’s short corner and, with the visiting defence expecting a cross, rifled a superb 20-yard effort past Courtois at his near post.
The Throstles were playing ole football towards the end of an encounter which also saw them keep their fourth clean sheet in five unbeaten games and 16th league shut-out of the campaign, a number only bettered by the champions.
In fact, the size of Albion’s victory is highlighted by the statistic that Jose Mourinho’s only Premier League defeat by three goals was back in February 2006.
It all means Albion - who received warm applause from the home faithful on their post-match lap of appreciation - are guaranteed to finish at least 13th in the table with 44 points currently to their name. But will be setting their sights one place higher ahead of a final-day trip to Arsenal on Sunday.
Tony Pulis made three changes for the encounter, welcoming back Berahino, Callum McManaman and James Morrison in place of Gardner, Youssouf Mulumbu and Victor Anichebe, who all dropped to the bench.
And it was McManaman who forced a superb reflex save from Chelsea goalkeeper Courtois after just five minutes.
Yet Albion did not have to wait long to make the breakthrough – and they did so in style.
Neat work down the left led to Joleon Lescott playing a ball into a central position 25 yards out and Berahino turned and, first time, fired a delightful curling effort beyond the reach of Courtois.
The Baggies were indebted to Lescott at the other end midway through the first half as his last-ditch block deflected Eden Hazard’s attempt off target.
Albion had already secured their top-flight status and Chelsea been crowned champions, but the encounter was far from a dead rubber and it exploded into controversy just before the half-hour mark.
Costa was booked for shoving Gareth McAuley in the penalty area and, following the ensuing melee as the Chelsea striker was being booked, Fabregas kicked the ball in the direction of Brunt and watched as it struck the Baggies man in the head.
Darren Fletcher saw yellow for his immediate reaction towards Fabregas but it was the Spaniard who was given his marching orders.
Boaz Myhill saved well from Filipe Luis’ free-kick and Loic Remy saw his shot deflected narrowly wide, sandwiched between a fine save from Courtois to deny Brunt, as an enthralling first period drew to a close.
And the drama continued just minutes after the restart as Terry brought down Berahino in the area, leaving the Baggies marksman to pick himself up and slam home the resulting penalty – his 20th goal of the season.
Remy crashed a low effort against a post in the 56th minute as the Blues looked for a route back into the contest.
Courtois was at it again to deny the lively James Morrison at the other end but the hosts soon made it three.
Brunt received Gardner's short corner and, from just outside the corner of the penalty area, drilled a fine strike past Courtois at his near post.
Albion duly controlled the remainder of the game although Myhill was called upon to make a great save to deny Nemanja Matic from point-blank range near the close – ensuring Albion kept yet another clean sheet and finished their home campaign on a huge high.
Albion: Myhill, Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Lescott, Brunt, Fletcher (c), Yacob, Morrison (Baird 89’), McManaman (Gardner 54’), Berahino (Ideye 79’).
Subs: Rose, Wisdom, Mulumbu, Anichebe.
GOALS: Berahino 9’, 47’, Brunt 60’
BOOKED: Fletcher (unsporting behaviour 29’), Olsson (foul 37’), Gardner (foul 63’)
Chelsea: Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Filipe Luis, Loftus-Cheek (Ake 73’), Matic, Remy (Brown 79’), Fabregas, Hazard, Costa (Cuadrado 64’).
Subs: Blackman, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Mikel.
BOOKED: Costa (unsporting behaviour 28’), Cuadrado (foul 82’)
SENT OFF: Fabregas (Violent conduct 29’)
Referee: Mike Jones (Cheshire)
Albion star man: Saido Berahino