Michy Batshuayi, the summer-signed striker who has waited patiently for action this season, rose from the substitutes' bench to write his name in Chelsea history by scoring the goal which won our sixth league championship, the fifth in the Premier League era.
The Belgian’s close-range finish on 82 minutes finally broke down predictably stubborn opponents but no-one could say we did not deserve the oh-so-vital three points on the night, just as no one can say Antonio Conte’s men do not deserve to be champions of England 2016/17.
It was the visitors from London who had the bulk of the attacking play at the Hawthorns but as we knew we would, we came up against a side strong in organisation and with plenty of bodies back. Victor Moses forced the best save of the night early in the second half, shortly before Albion had their most dangerous minutes. Thibaut Courtois also had to make a good save very early in the game but then the pressure began at the other end of the pitch and the Baggies eventually cracked.
We win the title with two games to spare, meaning it is party time at the Stamford Bridge on Monday and then next Sunday, before the quest to win the Double at Wembley at the end of the month.
Despite his return to availability after an injury which forced him to miss one match, N’Golo Kante began this game on the bench alongside Batshuayi and co. Cesc Fabregas unsurprisingly retained his place following his inspirational performance against Middlesbrough last Monday, so the team was unchanged for a game in which plenty of guile was likely to be needed to find the goal required.
The ‘Antonio, Antonio’ song was making itself heard over the powerful PA well before kick-off with a version of The Liquidator following just prior to the start, well appreciated by both sets of supporters. And then we were off! Courtois had no time at all to settle before he was called upon to keep out a Salomon Rondon header, the big striker having got to the ball in front of David Luiz.
Pedro had a difficult half-chance early on as a long pass dropped over his shoulder but he could not make the correct contact. Diego Costa brought a ball down in the box on the half-turn but his shot was blocked at source. Pedro then blazed over. On 10 minutes came the best move yet – Cesar Azpilicueta accurate in threading a pass through to Diego Costa who turned it on to Eden Hazard before the Belgian’s ball was blocked. Following that initial scare in the opening minute, it was the Blues, in black and yellow today, making the running. We could however have been caught on the break from our own corner had James McClean not played a pass behind Rondon’s run.
With 15 minutes played, a planned Chelsea free-kick routine looked to be paying dividends but a touch off a Baggies player diverted Pedro’s bottom-corner-bound shot wide. Before long we were awarded another free-kick near the Albion area for a foul on Moses that earned McClean a yellow card. That set-piece fell Cahill’s way at the far post for another shot blocked - in keeping with the theme of the first half.
A couple of challenges on Hazard midway through the half, one inside the box and one outside, raised eyebrows. The second tackle, by Allan Nyom, was painful for our no.10’s ankle but thankfully he was soon back running at the Baggies backline.
McClean, who was already on that booking, similarly blocked off Moses for another free-kick out on our right but although Fabregas’s delivery was nodded around the box, no chance on goal presented itself. Instead Fabregas tried an open-play shot across the turf from 20 yards out which went close. There were 32 minutes on the clock.
Sam Field was the second Baggies player booked for taking down Pedro from the rear after the Spaniard had slipped away from the experienced Darren Fletcher quite superbly. Pedro was back up and looking to add to his portfolio of outstanding long-range goals when he whipped a shot wide. Diego Costa did the same albeit from much closer in after his sharp movement had earned some rare space.
There was an equally rare piece of first-half defending needed by the Blues on the verge of the interval; David Luiz quick off the mark to get back and cut out McClean’s centre. The first-half had ended how it started, with Tony Pulis’s side attacking our goal, but Conte’s men had clearly been the better side. It was just a question of whether, as we eventually managed at the Bridge back in December, we could break our opponents down in the second period.
Moses almost did with 46 minutes on the clock, with a snap-shot that required a full-length dive from Ben Foster to keep it out. Diego Costa, with a shot on the fall, also worked the keeper. Fabregas soon struck a shot that drifted away from the goal but that had come after another sharp Chelsea move had broken down. Conte's men were shifting up a gear.
The Baggies were a little fortunate not to turn a Hazard cross into their own net after a Fabregas pass had set the alarm bells ringing. Then Moses thundered a shot straight at Foster. The home fans had for a long time been irate when decisions were given Chelsea’s way, but there were two fouls on Hazard in quick succession. Unfortunately, we did not make much of the free-kicks. Time was beginning to ebb away.
The after-effects of a collision with Diego Costa forced off Gareth McAuley which meant West Brom had used all their subs with only just over an hour played. Conte had yet to turn to his bench, but he would soon do so to great effect. On 70 minutes came one of the games big moments when Rondon escaped David Luiz and had a run on goal, but first Cahill and then Azpilicueta got back at him and crowded the striker out. Great defending!
Marc Wilson, only just on, was cautioned for halting a Moses counter-attack but then it opened up again for Albion and there were big sighs of Chelsea relief when Nacer Chadli shot wide. Willian and Michy Batshuayi were introduced for Hazard and Pedro with 15 minutes remaining and it was the latter who was the man in the right place just when many Chelsea followers in the stadium must have begun to think it was not going to happen tonight.
The golden goal emanated from sustained Chelsea pressure with Alonso heading back towards Cahill. From outside the area, the skipper went for glory but mishit his shot. Azpilicueta, who was enjoying a great game, had the presence of mind to square the ball back into the six-yard box. Batshuayi struck, and Foster’s block was not enough to keep it out. It was at the end housing the Chelsea fans too. The celebrations began!
Courtois made one more sharp save in added time but the offside flag was up anyway. Nothing was going to stop this Chelsea side now. After the whistle, players, staff and fans were united in sharing the big moment, and it went on and on and on…