White Hart Pain as Blues drop vital points in title race – VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS
By Joe Carroll.
Chelsea have relinquished a four point lead at the top of the Premier League as they fell victim to a 2-1 defeat against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team were well beaten at White Hart Lane and the Chelsea boss will be frustrated by his team’s lacklustre performance which has blown this season’s title race wide open. With Manchester United narrowly beating local rivals Manchester City in an early kick-off, it was over to Chelsea to ensure that they maintained their four point lead.
However an upbeat Tottenham side, revived from their semi final exit to Portsmouth and buoyed by a dramatic midweek win over Arsenal, were reluctant to read Saturday’s script and two first half goals from Jermaine Defoe and Gareth Bale ensured that Chelsea returned to West London with their tails firmly between their legs.
The home side began the game in much the same fashion as they left off against their North London rivals in mid-week; attacking from the first whistle with pace and purpose, and some frantic defending from the visitors only increased the sense that a goal was near. The pacy Bale was always an outlet going forward and looked to have won his side a penalty when Mikel brought a bursting run into the box to an abrupt stop. Referee Phil Dowd saw no infringement whose decision only incensed Spurs player and fan alike.
However it was only a minute later that a David Bentley cross was adjudged to have been handled by Chelsea skipper John Terry. The Blues captain was extremely lucky to get away with a much more obvious handball against Bolton on Tuesday- here, his and Chelsea’s luck appeared to be out, as replays showed minimal contact between ball and arm.
But it was no more than Spur’s early endeavours deserved, and the effects of a gruelling week of football which included semi final heartbreak and derby day delight seemed to be showing no visible signs. Defoe who had missed six out of his last ten penalties before today put his demons behind him as he smashed the ball firmly into the back of the net.
The game then began to take a slight turn in Chelsea’s favour as they sensed that Spurs might just start to run away with the game after their impressive opening. Chelsea had not done much in the way of putting Heurelho Gomes under pressure, and despite their superior possession they could not find an equaliser. Spurs were happy enough to see the visitors pass the ball around the box without venturing particularly often inside it.
As half time approached Chelsea thought they had equalised as Florent Malouda breached the solid Spurs defence only to find his effort ruled out for offside. Replays showed the Frenchman stray just beyond the Tottenham back line before poking the ball under an on rushing Gomez.
Sensing a Chelsea comeback, Spurs took it upon themselves to ensure that an equaliser did not materialise. Welsh left back Bale has put together a string of impressive performances lately and after finding the net in mid week, he set off on another run that resulted in him cutting in on his weaker right. From just outside the box and with Paulo Ferreira falling over his own feet, Bale let fly with an unstoppable effort that sent the home fans into rapture.
If there was one Spurs player that could have claimed the man of the match award over Bale then it was keeper Gomez, and Harry Redknapp had the Brazilian to thank for maintaining their two-goal advantage. Frank Lampard’s attempted volley looked destined to burst the back of the net, but the Spurs stopper ensured that Chelsea went in at the half time whistle with nothing in the way of a life line.
Ancelotti’s desperateness to get back into this game was apparent by the introduction of Michael Ballack and Branislav Ivanovich, with Joe Cole and Ferreira making way. One cannot help but feel that the Italian may well have gotten this one wrong, as bemused looking fans watched their only player of attacking intent leave the field. Openings looked a lot more likely with Cole on the ball, and many a fan may question the switch as Ballack failed to have any impact on the second half’s events.
Chelsea enjoyed much more of the possession in the second half, but for all the time they had with the ball they just couldn’t get in behind the organised Tottenham rearguard. Didier Drogba seemed too busy running the ball into channels which left little option for Chelsea in the box. Spurs were more than happy to soak up the Chelsea pressure, and went forward with pace and options.
Their counter-attacking football stretched Chelsea and Spurs constantly had men over. It led to Terry committing himself to two rash and desperate challenges which both resulted in yellow cards. Referee Dowd put two and two together and took one from 11. With their captain heading for an early bath, Chelsea were facing a monumental uphill struggle and the prospect of a first defeat in seven.
The home side wasted a number of late chances to put the game to bed, misses which looked to have proved significant when Lampard pulled a goal back in injury time with a simple sliding tap in from an Ivanovic cross. The comeback though came too late in the day and the goal was little more than a consolation in what will be remembered as a disappointing occasion for Chelsea fans.
Despite defeat, Chelsea keep their place at the summit of the Premier League. But with second placed United grabbing a last gasp victory, the pressure will have increased ten-fold as the games begin to run out. Blues fans will be hoping their luck will not suffer the same fate.
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