Rafael Benitez’s Chelsea nightmare continued yesterday as West Ham hit back to inflict his first defeat in charge and extend his winless start as interim manager.
Already the first boss of the Roman Abramovich era to not oversee a victory in his opening two games under the Russian, it got worse for Benitez at Upton Park as the Blues made it seven Barclays Premier League games without maximum points.
Juan Mata appeared to ease the pressure on the former Liverpool boss by ending the European champions’ five-hour, 34-minute goal drought after 13 minutes today.
But the visitors squandered several chances to score again and were deservedly made to pay through a controversial Carlton Cole equaliser and goals from substitutes Mohamed Diame and Modibo Maiga.
West Ham fans taunted Benitez with, “You’re getting sacked in the morning”, while the torrent of abuse from Chelsea fans also continued.
There were early warning signs for Chelsea, with a defence reshaped by David Luiz’s suspension failing its first real test in the tenth minute when a straight free-kick from James Collins sailed over everyone to Winston Reid, whose header across goal was scrambled to safety by Cesar Azpilicueta.
Fernando Torres was dropping into midfield to get involved with mixed results but it was the return of his striking instincts that helped Chelsea end their longest goal drought of the Abramovich era. The Spaniard burst in behind onto Victor Moses’ 13th-minute through ball and coolly cut it back for Mata to sidefoot home easily,
Benitez kept his promise not to celebrate the first goal of his reign, which did not spare him chants of “One Di Matteo” and “You’re not welcome here” from the visiting fans, along with the ubiquitous “Rafa Out” banner.
An equaliser arrived in the 63rd minute in controversial fashion.
Matt Jarvis’ cross looped up off Cesar Azpilicueta and Carlton Cole climbed over Branislav Ivanovic to nod it in, Chelsea’s protests resulting in a booking for John Obi Mikel.
With four minutes remaining, a throw-in found its way to Carlton Cole, who laid the ball off to Diame to drill home and it got worse in stoppage time when fellow substitute Maiga followed up after Matt Taylor’s shot was parried.
Benitez is clear what he needs after two draws and a defeat.
“To win, it’s simple,” he said. “In the first half we just had to score more goals. We have to improve.
“We know that football has two halves, the game has two halves. In the first half we had two or three chances – we just need to score more goals.”
Benitez defended striker Torres who once again drew a blank in front of goal.
“I thought the team had chances, not just Fernando,” he said. “When you are attacking and you are controlling the game like we did in the first half, you have to score goals.”
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce was pleased his decision to bring on Diame at half-time paid off.
He said: “We started OK but when they scored we just lost our confidence. I think we lost our momentum.
“I just needed to make some changes, bring in some fresh legs. It was all about playing in the opposition’s half, playing off Carlton Cole. I felt he was itching for a real good game.
“They can really enjoy their week now, have a bit of a rest the next few days and then come back ready for the Liverpool.”