Premier League - Chelsea frustrated by Stoke

Sat, 02 Apr 16:55:00 2011

Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw by Stoke City as Carlo Ancelotti's side came from behind to salvage a point in their Premier League encounter at the Britannia Stadium.

Match Highlights: Stoke 1

Jon Walters gave Stoke an eighth-minute lead with an inspired individual effort which saw him jink past two Chelsea players before finding the back of the net with an emphatic finish.

But the Blues were level just after the half hour mark as Nicolas Anelka's deft delivery from the left picked out strike partner Didier Drogba, who headed a precise finish beyond Asmir Begovic to level the scores.

Fernando Torres was confined to the substitutes' bench as Drogba spearheaded a three-pronged attack with Florent Malouda and Anelka either side, while Stoke employed Walters in support of lone striker Kenwyne Jones.

The crossbar was struck three times in a second half positively brimming with clear-cut chances, but neither side was able to snatch the crucial winning goal and had to settle for a share of the points.

Stoke flew out of the blocks to leave Chelsea napping early on, and a touch of brilliance from forward Walters saw the hosts assume a fifth-minute lead.

The Irishman skipped past David Luiz with consummate ease, before driving to the left byline, cutting inside Michael Essien and finally powering a clinical finish beyond the helpless Petr Cech. It was a strike befitting one of Chelsea's exorbitantly-priced stars, each of whom were left stunned by the setback.

Stoke might have doubled their lead in the 17th minute as Kenwyne Jones capitalised on some slack defending from John Terry to skip past the Chelsea skipper and force his way into the box, only to lose his composure with a poor final touch which afforded the relieved defender a reprieve.

Chelsea finally began to settle midway through the first half, and Frank Lampard connected crisply with a cross from Ramires, volleying powerfully on target from the edge of the Stoke box as Begovic was forced to parry the ball away with Anelka unable to latch on to the rebound from close range.

But the Blues were level in the 33rd minute as Anelka clipped a precise delivery into the box from the left, and Drogba clambered in front of Ryan Shawcross to head beyond Begovic and restore parity.

Chelsea's relief was palpable as boss Carlo Ancelotti clenched his fist on the touchline and Drogba was mobbed by his team-mates: it was a mark of respect for the way Stoke had battled fearlessly from the outset.

The first half continued to be played at a breathless pace throughout, and both sides were happy to get in for the break to reorganise themselves after a chaotic finale saw tempers frayed.

Cech was forced into action three minutes into the second half: Matthew Etherington and Glenn Whelan combined to good effect deep inside the Chelsea half as the move culminated in Jermaine Pennant unfurling a low drive towards the far corner of the net, and Cech was duly forced into making a fine reflex save with his feet.

Drogba then struck the post at the other end just two minutes later as the forward outmuscled Danny Higginbotham to latch on to Ramires's pinpoint through ball, and planted an unerring low shot against the far post with Begovic beaten at full stretch.

Torres was introduced on the hour mark as Anelka was withdrawn, and Salomon Kalou replaced Ramires seconds later in what was a very attacking double change from Ancelotti.

But it was Stoke who came closest to adding a second in the ensuing minutes, with the Potters hitting the crossbar twice in successive minutes.

First Essien hauled down Jones with a cynical challenge, with Marc Wilson's subsequent free kick a rasping piledriver which left Cech comprehensively beaten as it fizzed towards goal and cannoned off the crossbar and to safety in the 66th minute.

Seconds later, Cech distinguished himself with a stunning save, tipping Robert Huth's powerful header against the bar at full stretch following Glenn Whelan's corner, and again Stoke were left bemoaning their luck.

The pressure was suddenly incessant from Stoke as Pennant dinked over a devilish delivery from the right which was met firmly by Etherington with a header, and Cech was again called upon to make a sprawling save with his legs to thwart the hosts.

It was then Chelsea's turn to hit the crossbar in the 81st minute as Drogba pounced on a loose ball in the Stoke box, swivelled superbly and lashed a fierce left-footed volley against the woodwork with Begovic beaten. Given Stoke's chances which had preceded it, the Blues did not feel remotely aggrieved.

Six minutes were added at the end of the second half, and substitute Ricardo Fuller should have grabbed all three points for his side as he met Etherington's deep cross at the back post, but headed wide from close range with the goal gaping at his mercy.

The draw leaves Chelsea 11 points adrift of leaders Manchester United, who earlier came from behind to beat West Ham 4-2, albeit with a game in hand of Sir Alex Ferguson's side from third place, while Stoke consolidate 10th spot.

Dan Quarrell / Eurosport

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