Chelsea regain edge but Didier Drogba's soft penalty lets Heurelho Gomes off the hook
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Chelsea 1: They did not leave White Hart Lane having conquered the place but there was more of a familiar strut about the Chelsea team that departed down the stadium's tunnel yesterday evening after they recaptured a little bit of what has made this team so indomitable in the past.
Paulo Ferreira even threw his shirt into the Chelsea away end – there have been occasions over the last month when it might have been thrown back at him – and the likes of Didier Drogba and John Terry wore that grimace at an opportunity missed. It was not a victory, and one win in seven Premier League games is still their worst League run since 1999, but it felt like a corner had been turned.
Had Drogba beaten Heurelho Gomes with his penalty in injury-time at the end of the game, we would have been talking about Chelsea being back on top of the Premier League, until tonight at least, but even so there was enough evidence to suggest that the worst is behind them.
Overrun in the first half by a Spurs team who were open to the point of being naive – albeit in the usual thrilling style – Carlo Ancelotti's team rediscovered themselves after the break. Drogba came on at half-time then Frank Lampard in the 77th minute and suddenly Chelsea looked a lot more like Chelsea.
They should have won the game. Gomes' challenge on Ramires was as rash as the goalkeeper's handling for Drogba's equaliser was clumsy and when the Chelsea striker put the ball on the spot it felt like one of those pivotal moments of a season. Gomes guessed correctly and denied Drogba but that does not diminish the way Chelsea played in the second half.
As for Drogba, there was a definite bolshiness about his reaction to his goal – a stroppy, unsmiling strut to the corner flag to stare at the away fans – that suggests he has not forgiven them for their unenthusiastic response to him during the Everton and Marseilles games. Drogba is not the type to forget a slight.
He did not look happy to start on the bench either, a decision presumably made because of his poor performance in France on Wednesday night. A goal down at half-time, Ancelotti signalled for him to warm up to come on as soon as the whistle blew for the end of the first half. But a bad Drogba mood hung over proceedings right to the end.
Chelsea had 60 per cent of the possession in the game and the best of a hugely entertaining second half in which both teams went for the win with little thought for the possibility of losing. Ancelotti's team did so because they needed a result to break this poor run and Spurs did so because they know no other way.
Harry Redknapp's team had the better of the first half when Roman Pavlyuchenko scored their goal but Spurs' problem is they have no notion of how to close out a game once in front. It has made them the most entertaining team to watch this season in both the Premier League and Champions League but it has its drawbacks, too.
There was always a possibility that Chelsea would find their way back into this game when Redknapp's team began trading punches with them in a compelling second half in which the action roared back and forth from one end to the other. Redknapp makes no apologies for the way his team plays although even he must be having his reservations about Gomes.
On 70 minutes, the Brazilian allowed Drogba's shot, which was hit straight at him, to go in. In the build-up to that goal, as Drogba turned Michael Dawson, himself returning for Spurs for the first time since August, the striker appeared to use the top of his arm to control the ball.
It was Gomes who came ploughing through Ramires in injury-time to concede a penalty so blatant that no one in a white shirt bothered to argue. Last season Lampard and Drogba disputed the responsibility for penalty-taking but yesterday the former was happy to defer to his grumpy team-mate.
The penalty was poor, struck at a manageable height for Gomes and to his left side giving him an immediate chance to redeem himself. Having made excellent saves earlier in the half from Drogba and Wilson Palacios, when he sent a careless header goalwards, Gomes was back in the good books.
Spurs had taken the lead a little too easily for Ancelotti's comfort when Terry allowed Pavlyuchenko to turn away from him in the penalty area and drive his shot inside Petr Cech's near post. Spurs were the better side before the break and the regularity with which Terry pushed forward into the Spurs penalty area showed how desperate Chelsea had become for a goal.
As usual, Luka Modric was excellent and although Gareth Bale was not at his game-changing best he was still a constant worry for Chelsea. To Ferreira's credit, the old Portuguese jack-of-all-trades drew upon all his experience to restrict Spurs' left-wing phenomenon.
It is a mark of how far Spurs have come under Redknapp that they now expect to win games such as these and, like Chelsea, they too have key players missing – Rafael van der Vaart, William Gallas, Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas. However, with Blackpool, Aston Villa and Fulham among the Christmas opponents they have a much less challenging two weeks coming up than Chelsea.
Should Ancelotti's team lose to Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday then the pressure will be back on a team who, despite their comeback yesterday, are still up against it. After United they play Arsenal on 27 December and they need Lampard and Terry back to full fitness for those games.
Lampard will play in a specially-arranged practice game on Thursday to improve his match fitness. There is no equivalent remedy for Drogba's mood swings – Ancelotti will just have to hope that his striker snaps out of whatever is bothering him.
Substitutes: Tottenham Crouch (Defoe, 60), Keane (Pavlyuchenko, 78), Sandro (Palacios, 89). Chelsea Drogba (Mikel, h-t), Sturridge (Kalou, 68), Lampard (Malouda, 77).
Booked: Tottenham Assou-Ekotto, Gomes. Chelsea Essien, Drogba.
Man of the match Modric. Match rating 7/10.
Possession Tottenham 42% Chelsea 58%.
Shots on target Tottenham 3 Chelsea 7.
Referee M Dean (Merseyside)