Crossbar denies Anelka late winner...
Chelsea failed to capitalise on Manchester United’s slipup against West Brom earlier in the day, as they were held to a goalless stalemate at Villa Park in the evening kick-off on Saturday.
It says everything about the home side's performance which was combined with spirit and determination, that Carlo Ancelotti may feel this is a point gained given Villa’s superiority in the first half.
To the champion’s credit, the Blues turned the tables in the second period and pegged the home side back for the majority of the half but could not manage to find a breakthrough.
Didier Drogba was the major absentee from the Chelsea side as Ancelotti’s champions’. The Ivorian hitman failed to recover from a fever in time as Ancelotti opted for the promising youngster Gael Kakuta in his place to form a front three including Nikolas Anelka and Florent Malouda.
Gerard Houllier, who was experiencing his first home league game in the Villa Park dugout, was without the somewhat rejuvenated Emile Heskey and gave Norwegian John Carew a starting line-up place.
The home side began the match in scintillating fashion and had three glorious chances to take the lead during the opening 45 minutes.
Houllier’s instructions seemed clear from the offset, to push and hassle Chelsea high up the pitch, and the Blues failed to deal with Villa’s aggressive approach at all during the opening period.
Their first chance of the game came when Stephen Ireland was released by Stewart Downing but dragged his right footed narrowly wide of Petr Cech’s far post.
Villa’s early dominance should have been rewarded just a few minutes later when Carew capitalised on some sloppy Chelsea play, but saw his shot brilliantly tipped round the post by Petr Cech.
Chelsea’s uneasiness at a ground which they have notoriously struggled at in recent seasons, continued when Villa again got a sight of the Chelsea goal and it was Ireland yet again, who saw his shot bravely blocked by Branislav Ivanovic.
Ancelotti was clearly an unhappy man as he trudged back to the changing rooms having seen his side be second best for most of the first 45 minutes. This was reflected by a straight substitution for the second half, with Yuri Zhirkov replacing the quiet Kakuta who had failed to capitalise on his chance.
Heads up| Essien and Ireland tussle for the ball
Chelsea responded well in the second half and immediately began to peg Houllier’s side back, and Anelka almost opened the scoring but saw his shot well saved by Brad Fridel in the Villa goal.
There were then half hearted appeals for a penalty when Anelka’s cross flicked off the arm of Ciaran Clarke, with the defender having replaced Richard Dunn early in the first-half, but the referee refused to be swayed, but it was just another indication of Chelsea’s growing dominance.
With 15 minutes remaining Ivanovic then saw a thumping header from a Malouda corner strike the post, in what was the closest either side had come to breaking the deadlock.
At the other end, it was Villa’s turn to strike the woodwork as Clarke saw a glancing header from a beautifully taken Ashley Young free kick strike the Chelsea post with Cech well beaten.
Anelka then missed a glorious chance on 90 minutes to extend Chelsea’s lead in the Premier League when he saw a header from just a few yards out bounce of the top of the crossbar.
Nigel Reo-Coker then should have won it for Villa as he raced clear of the Chelsea back line in the third minute of added time, as Cech rushed out he chipped the ball over the goalkeeper but agonisingly saw his cute effort go past the post., as the match ended all-square.
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