West Bromwich: Chelsea`s chances of qualifying for the Champions League took another blow on Saturday when the former Premier League champions lost 1-0 at West Bromwich Albion.
Defender Gareth McAuley scored with eight minutes remaining to earn the Baggies a third straight win and leave Chelsea three points behind fourth-placed Arsenal with 11 games left.
Liam Ridgewell drove Keith Andrews` chip across the area and McAuley diverted the ball past Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.
West Brom`s first win over Chelsea since 1979 also increased the pressure on Chelsea coach Andre Villas-Boas, whose team has lost seven times in the Premier League this season.
"Everyone must do their job better: players, staff and manager," Villas-Boas said. "We have responsibility toward the fans of the club."
Cech was busier than his counterpart Ben Foster, while Youssouf Mulumbu and James Morrison dominated midfield for the home side.
Peter Odemwingie had a glancing header from Morrison`s free kick blocked and Cech pushed a fierce shot by Morrison over the bar.
At the other end, Juan Mata failed to connect properly with an attempted volley, Foster blocked a shot by Mata and Ridgewell stopped an attempt from Gary Cahill. Daniel Sturridge should have broken the deadlock after 40 minutes following a superb pass from Didier Drogba but put his attempt wide of the right post.
Cech turned over a fierce drive from Mulumbu and also reacted sharply to block a low shot on the turn from Marc-Antoine Fortune. Chelsea also needed a last-ditch challenge from Ashley Cole to deny Chris Brunt as he closed in on a cross.
"It was very poor in all senses of the word — in the first half and the second half," Villas-Boas said. "We have to do much, much better."
Coupled with Arsenal`s dramatic 2-1 win at Liverpool, Chelsea`s record of one win from their last seven away matches leaves them facing a tough task to finish in the crucial top four places in the Premier League.
Sixth-place Newcastle could now draw level with Chelsea on 46 points if they beat local rivals Sunderland in one of three games on Sunday.
Elsewhere, David Dunn`s late equalizer gave Blackburn a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa and a valuable point in their battle against relegation.
Villa took the lead in the 24th minute through Charles N`Zogbia`s shot, but Dunn leveled when he headed in at the far post in the 85th from Bradley Orr`s cross. Villa goalkeeper Shay Given got a hand to the ball but failed to keep it out.
Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson then had to dive low to his left to turn a shot from Barry Bannan around the post to keep the scores level.
Blackburn are in 18th place, one point away from safety, while Aston Villa are now 11 points clear of the drop zone.
First Published: Sunday, March 04, 2012, 00:19