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Top of the Match
Flop of the Match
Stoke City 1-1 Chelsea: Petr Cech stars as Premier League holders lose grip on trophy
Blues fall 11-points behind league leaders Manchester United after absorbing contest at the Britannia Stadium which featured fine strikes from Jon Walters and Didier Drogba...
By Matt Monaghan at the Britannia Stadium
Chelsea dropped vital points in the Premier League title race as fine goals from Jonathan Walters and Didier Drogba secured an entertaining draw against Stoke City and saw the championsdrop 11 points behind leaders Manchester United with a game in hand.
Walters pounced on a mistake from David Luiz to put Stoke ahead before Drogba powered a header past Asmir Begovic. Despite Chelsea's desperation to grab a winner in the second half, two world class saves from Petr Cech in the 66th minute prevented a defeat for the reigning champions.
For the hosts, manager Tony Pulis unsurprisingly stuck with the same selection that thrashed Newcastle United 4-0 last time at the Britannia Stadium. With an unbeaten home record to protect in 2011, captain Ryan Shawcross and ex-Chelsea centre-back Robert Huth were tasked with keeping the door bolted.
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti again changed his striking options and paired Nicolas Anelka and Drogba up top at the expense of Fernando Torres and Salomon Kalou. With Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final match with Manchester United in mind, Branislav Ivanovic made way for Jose Bosingwa at right-back.
As the usual vociferous support bellowed from the stands, Stoke went straight on the offensive. In the second minute, Huth should have put them in front but could only head over a Jermaine Pennant corner after a quick free-kick threatened to catch Chelsea out.
Stoke continued to press Chelsea back and deservedly went ahead in the eighth minute after a fine solo goal from Jonathan Walters. The striker beat the daydreaming David Luiz to a Danny Higginbotham clearance on the half-way line and charged into the penalty area, cut-back inside Michael Essien and slotted past Cech to make the Britannia erupt.
With adrenalin pumping through their systems Stoke were nearly instantly caught out but an offside Ashley Cole produced a fine Begovic save from a header when incorrectly waved on by the referee's assistant.
The two sides continued to probe but another mistake from a Chelsea defender in the 17th minute saw Kenwyne Jones race into the penalty area. Unlike partner Luiz, Terry recovered from his scuffed clearance on the right-wing to edge out the striker just yards from Cech's net.
Begovic's blushes were then saved in the 22nd minute after he flapped a volleyed Frank Lampard effort from 25 yards into Anelka's path before it was hacked to safety by Huth.
The chances started to mount up for Chelsea and four minutes later Drogba blasted over a deep Anelka cross when unmarked on the edge of the penalty box.
Chelsea had built up a head of steam and there could be few complaints when Drogba expertly levelled the scores in the 33rd minute. The Ivorian left marker Higginbotham for dead and headed a straight cross from partner Anelka into the top corner of Begovic's goal.
With thoughts of United's late comeback victory against West Ham United in their minds, the push continued. In the 36th minute, a fine Huth clearance off the line was correctly made void when the linesman ruled Cole had crossed to Ramires from an offside position.
The sides continued to test each other for the remainder of the half before referee Peter Walton called time on an absorbing contest.
Diving Drogba | Ivorian’s flying header puts Chelsea level at the Britannia
Obviously fired up by Ancelotti's words at half-time, Chelsea were first out onto the pitch as the second half commenced. Only three points would do to keep the dream of consecutive league titles alive.
No matter the statement of intent, it was Stoke who again started the brighter. In a recurring story of world class saves in the second period, Petr Cech blocked a low Pennant shot in the 49th minute after he was picked out by fellow winger Matthew Etherington.
Chelsea pinged straight up the other end of the pitch and Drogba dragged a shot just wide of Begovic's far post under pressure from Higginbotham after he was played in by Essien.
Ancelotti was well aware of the pressure to get three points and threw on £50 million January signing Fernando Torres - without a goal in 10 games for club and country - and Salomon Kalou in the 61st minute.
Despite the changes, Stoke were denied twice by Cech and the woodwork five minutes later. First, the Czech Republic international somehow got a fingertip to Marc Wilson's fierce outswinging shot after he was teed up from a free-kick by Glenn Whelan.
From the resultant corner Huth seemed certain to score as he rose above his marker but Cech again produced a top draw stop to push the ball onto the crossbar and to safety.
Stoke now had a grip on the game and continued to press for a goal to separate the sides. In the 72nd minute Walters couldn't nudge Etherington's header past Cech and then a trademark long-throw from Rory Delap was nudged wide by Jones when he should have done better.
After they weathered a storm of Stoke attacks, it was the turn of Chelsea to be denied by the woodwork in the 81st minute. Drogba was again the man in the thick of the action as he swivelled and fired a shot onto Begovic's bar after a glanced header from substitute Ivanovic failed to be cleared.
Chelsea then claimed a penalty five minutes later when Lampard was fairly double-teamed by Shawcross and Huth in the box after he was played in by Torres on the counter-attack.
Despite the fourth official's board indicating six minutes of injury-time, the Blues couldn't find a way through to keep the pressure on United. Indeed, Stoke looked most likely but replacement Ricardo Fuller could only head wide when teed up by Etherington's cross to the back stick.
When referee Walton blew the final whistle, two points had been dropped by Chelsea and dreams of consecutive titles left in tatters.
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