LONDON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - A relaxed-looking Antonio Conte strode round the Stamford Bridge pitch on Monday shaking hands and congratulated his Chelsea players on their 3-0 drubbing of West Bromwich Albion.
The man, who has been written off as another of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s “dead men walking” after successive Premier League defeats, had just led his side back into the top four Champions League places.
Now, pressure relieved a little, he could turn his attention to the FA Cup against Hull on Friday and an enticing Champions League encounter with Barcelona next week.
The Stamford Bridge crowd sang his name throughout the game, lending him the support he felt he had perhaps not received from his bosses, despite winning the Premier League title in his first season in charge.
“I have to thank the fans because they show me great support because (there are) speculations and rumour about me,” Conte said.
“To feel this atmosphere around me is very important. It’s very important to feel the people are appreciating my work here in Chelsea.”
The champions had lost games they were expected to win at a canter against Bournemouth and Watford, and Conte said confidence was low.
“We must be satisfied to win the game to get three points. We can play better, we can play with more confidence,” he said.
“After two bad defeats I think our confidence went down and we started the game a bit defeated. Then after the we scored we controlled the game.”
Bottom club West Brom’s profligacy in front of goal — they missed three good chances with the score at 0-0 and 1-0 — helped calm Chelsea’s nerves on Monday.
Belgium forward Eden Hazard contributed two goals in a characteristically sharp performance and winger Victor Moses scored the other.
Conte said he was also encouraged by the gradual return to form of his strikers.
New signing Olivier Giroud who is recovering from a muscular problem after joining from Arsenal set up Hazard’s first goal and substitute Alvaro Morata, out for a month with a back problem tested West Brom keeper Ben Foster with a stinging shot at the end of the match.
“It’s important that they play games to find their best physical condition,” he said.
Chelsea will need all the firepower they can muster over the next three weeks with the Hull and Barcelona games followed by away league fixtures against the top two sides Manchester United and Manchester City.
“The will to fight, the will to take three points was very important tonight and to keep another clean sheet,” Conte said. “Now we have to try to continue this way.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury