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Football: Baggies no hurdle to champions elect.

Byline: Dan Childs

CHELSEA are approaching the Premiership run-in with plenty in the tank and can get back in front of Manchester United by 11 points by recording a comfortable victory over West Brom tonight, writes Dan Childs. Unlike today's wide-open Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, the Stamford Bridge contest has a prohibitive favourite, with the Blues quoted at 1-6, but a 2-0 correct-score wager on Chelsea to rule the roost could boost your betting balance.

Betfair punters are anticipating one of the biggest mismatches in Premiership history - the visitors have been backed at as high as 29 to notch an unlikely victory, while over 2.5 goals has been traded at as low as 1.5 - but a goal glut is not a certainty.

Chelsea's home league fixtures have yielded 28 goals - an average of just 2.15 per game.

And, while the Baggies do not provide Chelsea with their biggest hurdle of the season, Bryan Robson's side should not be underestimated.

Since hitting rock-bottom on Boxing Day, going down 5-0 at home to Liverpool, Albion have lost just three of their last 12 fixtures. And the improvement has been achieved thanks to some decent defending - Robson's team have kept four clean sheets in their last seven P remiership games.

Resilience will be Robson's watchword this evening and, in an effort to bolster the barricades, the Baggies boss may pack the midfield by sacrificing burly striker Geoff Horsfield for Riccardo Scimeca.

Scimeca and Ronnie Wallwork will attempt to plug the gaps in the Albion rearguard and they may have some success in the opening 45 minutes while bodies and minds are still fresh.

But, if an early goal fails to materialise, Mourinho's men will not panic.

The Blues' powers of endurance earned them a Carling Cup victory over Liverpool last month and fitness was a key asset in recent top-flight clashes at Norwich and Everton, where second-half strikes were required to turn one point into three.

The stunning Champions League victory over Barcelona has given Mourinho a pleasant selection headache.

Joe Cole and Mateja Kez-man excelled against Barca but, with Didier Drogba available to return, the Chelsea boss has the option of reverting to 4-3-3.

Arjen Robben is expected to make his long-awaited return from a fractured foot although the Dutch winger will probably be used as a second-half substitute.

Recommendations Chelsea to win 2-0 1pt 8-1 (Bet365) Draw/Chelsea double result 1pt 9-2 (Skybet, S James, Tote)Back & lay prices Back Lay BFAIR BDAQ BINARY BFAIR BDAQ BINARY Chelsea 1.21 1.2 1.12 1.22 1.21 1.28 West Brom 26 25 20 27 27 38 Draw 7.2 7.1 6.9 7.4 7.4 9.3 Betfair & Betdaq taken at 6.45pm last night, commission not taken into account.

Asian handicaps B365 LADS PREMBET VC Chelsea -1.75 1.9 1.88 1.9 1.875 West Brom +1.75 2 1.96 2 1.975 Asian handicap prices are shown in decimals

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Chelsea's Joe Cole leaps over the challenge of Norwich's Marc Edworthy
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 15, 2005
Words:513
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