Chelsea 2 West Brom 1
Substitute Florent Malouda’s 83rd-minute winner gave Andre Villas-Boas his first Premier League victory as Chelsea boss.
Shane Long’s shock opener left West Brom’s ex-Fulham manager Roy Hodgson on course for a triumphant return to west London – and Albion within sight of a first win at Stamford Bridge for 33 years.
But Chelsea hit back with Nicolas Anelka’s leveller and claimed all three points when Jose Bosingwa crossed for Malouda to score from close range.
The Blues were dismal for much of the first half and a defensive aberration gifted their opponents the lead after only four minutes.
Ramires’ loose pass along the edge of the penalty area caught Alex flat-footed, allowing Long to rob the Chelsea centre-back and sprint away from him before slotting past Hilario.
It was Long’s second goal in as many matches since his summer move from Reading and the Baggies were given another opportunity soon afterwards.
Keeper Hilario, playing in place of the injured Petr Cech, pushed away Paul Scharner’s shot at his near post after the Austrian had been found in space by Chris Brunt’s pass.
And a sublime pass from Brunt then gave Albion a glorious opportunity to go further in front.
The Northern Ireland midfielder’s ball with the outside of the boot released Long, whose pass across to a completely unmarked Somen Tchoyi should have been a routine one but was over-hit, and Chelsea escaped.
It was not the start to his first home match in charge that Villas-Boas had planned.
So poor were his side that he did not wait until half-time to make a change, instead sending Malouda on in place of Salomon Kalou 10 minutes before the break.
The switch did seem to have some effect and Ashley Cole’s 20-yard drive was pushed away by keeper Ben Foster, who also did well to hold Alex’s deflected free-kick.
It was an encouraging end to the half by Chelsea and they had a decent shout for a penalty ignored when Anelka went down in the six-yard box after appearing to be impeded by Foster.
That was a sign of things to come, as Chelsea equalised only seven minutes after the restart.
Again they might have had a penalty when Frank Lampard was chopped down by Gabriel Tamas, but the ball ran straight to Anelka, whose shot went through the legs of Albion defender Jonas Olsson and into the far corner of the net.
It was Anelka’s first goal in 12 matches – ending the longest barren spell of the Frenchman’s career.
At the other end, Scharner missed the chance to put his team back in front when he headed wide from James Morrison’s left-wing cross.
That was a rare sight of goal in the second half for Albion, who stayed on level terms when Foster saved from Anelka after he had been set up by Lampard, and Malouda’s attempt to smash home the loose ball was brilliantly blocked by Steven Reid.
With the visitors beginning to looked stretched, Villas-Boas introduced Didier Drogba in place of Fernando Torres, who worked hard and showed more glimpses of his class but rarely presented a goal threat.
Albion certainly did present a threat on the few occasions they were able to counter-attack, and the impressive Tchoyi saw a left-footed effort tipped away by Hilario.
Villas-Boas’ men yet again appealed in vain for a penalty after Olsson seemed to handle the ball in an aerial challenge on Branislav Ivanovic, and Anelka missed a chance to embarrass Foster by shooting wide after the England international had sprinted outside his area to try and collect a long ball.
But Foster’s luck ran out when Bosingwa did well on the right and sent in a low cross that Malouda tucked away at the far post after sneaking in behind Reid.
Chelsea still required a late save from Hilario, who did well to deny Peter Odemwingie after the unmarked substitute had been picked out by Reid.