LONDON, March 2 (Reuters) - The snarling tiger of Wednesday looked like the cat who got the cream on Saturday as Rafael Benitez purred with delight about his Chelsea team and the fans after a 1-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion.
The interim manager produced an extraordinary outburst following the 2-0 FA Cup fifth-round win at second tier Middlesbrough in midweek, criticising the supporters who have barracked him relentlessly since he took charge in November.
All that was forgotten by the Spaniard on Saturday after a first-half goal from Demba Ba helped Chelsea climb to third in the Premier League, one point ahead of London rivals Tottenham Hotspur who host north London neighbours Arsenal on Sunday.
“I‘m really pleased the fans were behind the team today ... because the players played with more confidence,” a smiling Benitez told reporters at Stamford Bridge.
“The atmosphere was very good and I think it was clear that was very, very positive.”
The Spaniard hit out at a section of the fans 72 hours earlier, saying they were wasting their time singing songs and waving banners against him.
Benitez’s broadside prompted an angry reaction from the Chelsea supporters on radio phone-ins and internet chat rooms and everyone expected the interim manager to be given a hostile reception against West Brom.
The odd critical banner was visible, one calling Benitez ‘The Interim One’ in a reference to crowd favourite Jose Mourinho, the self-styled ‘Special One’ who led Chelsea to back-to-back Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006 and is now in charge of Real Madrid.
Another banner said of Benitez, ‘We don’t want him and we never wanted him’.
There was also the occasional cry for Mourinho, some isolated booing and the almost obligatory chants for Roberto Di Matteo in the 16th minute, a reference to the shirt number Benitez’s managerial predecessor wore during his time as a Chelsea player.
Other than that though the crowd were mainly subdued.
Benitez was bombarded with media questions about his Wednesday tirade, when he also hit out at the board for giving him the title ‘interim’, but he preferred to focus on the victory over West Brom.
”I‘m really pleased with the team - today it was a great performance,“ he said. ”For 75 minutes we were in control with good play and good passing and we created opportunities.
“The man of the match was their goalkeeper (Ben Foster), he was really good. We played very good football and the atmosphere was good (in the stadium),” added Benitez.
“We created opportunities to score more goals and to kill the game. We didn’t do it but still we were defending well and kept a clean sheet.” (Editing by Justin Palmer)