Benitez pleased with players and fans

Chelsea fans display a banner as they protest against Rafael Benitez prior to the Premier League win over West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Chelsea fans display a banner as they protest against Rafael Benitez prior to the Premier League win over West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Sat, Mar 2, 2013, 00:00

Soccer: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 Premier League for 24 hours at least, depending on the result of tomorrow’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 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.”

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