Delight in Manchester as Spurs and Chelsea draw
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Chelsea 1: As the latest John Terry turmoil engulfed his club this week, Andre Villas-Boas would have settled for a draw, a decent performance and getting the hell out of White Hart Lane with a team even remotely still in with a chance of the Premier League title come May.
In the end, the Chelsea manager got just that last night: he got a hard-won point from a team that edged it on the night and showed, once again, that there is life in this club yet. They are 11 points behind the leaders Manchester City at Christmas but no-one was shaking their head in disbelief after the match when Villas-Boas declared after the game that Chelsea were still in contention in the title race.
They fought their way back into the match after going behind to Emmanuel Adebayor's goal in the eighth minute and, until a late flurry of chances for Spurs at the end of the game, it was Chelsea who looked most likely to win the match. It was close for most of it, thrillingly so, and it was played out in an intense, charged atmosphere that the players could not avoid being affected by.
Much of the aggression from the stands was directed, as expected, at Terry who was booed and abused in song by the Spurs fans even more than he usually is when he comes here. He left the pitch at the end of the match shirtless and defiant, his jersey thrown to the away supporters, typically a sign that he believes he has had a good game and, on this occasion, there was no disputing that fact.
But this was not just the John Terry show, even though it was the Chelsea captain who slid in behind Petr Cech to clear Adebayor's shot away from goal in the last minute. This was a much more rounded Chelsea performance from the likes of Daniel Sturridge, the goalscorer, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba. A special mention too, to Jose Bosingwa who deputised admirably at centre-back for the second half.
That is not to diminish the performance of Spurs in the first half who hit Chelsea like a hurricane in the early stages and scored within eight minutes. For those early assaults, marking Gareth Bale became the job of three Chelsea players at times and even they were not enough. Harry Redknapp's team would have put in the performance of the season had they sustained it but Chelsea came right back at them.
It was wonderful to watch. One mistake would have decided it either way but there were none from these two impressive sets of players. Cech made some fine saves in the late stages, amending for his error against Wigan. Ramires wasted a great chance to win the game with a free header in the 87th minute. He is, Villas-Boas said, the player who has had the most one-on-one opportunities this season in the whole squad.
Where does it leave both teams? Even further from the two Manchester clubs. The gap between Tottenham in third and Manchester United in second is seven points. This Christmas, the Premier League's two leading teams are pulling away and if Chelsea and Spurs are to get back into it then they will surely have to take points off the Manchester teams in the second half of the season
Redknapp lost Rafael Van der Vaart at half-time to a hamstring injury which undoubtedly reduced his team's capacity to attack Chelsea. The Dutchman was partly culpable in Chelsea's goal which came from Cole on the right side of Spurs' defence but Van der Vaart does offer more than Roman Pavlyuchenko who gave his team little in the second half.
The Tottenham team that began the game was close to the best team at Redknapp's disposal. In full cry they are a fearsome sight. The goal came from the run of Bale who went past Bosingwa as if he had not noticed the full-back. His cross, hit while going at pace, was beautifully placed and Adebayor came onto it perfectly to score.
Chelsea were leaning into a gale. There was a shot from Juan Mata, hit first time, that was saved by Brad Friedel. Sturridge put the rebound over. Then it was back down the other end for Spurs to continue their siege. A goal down, Villas-Boas was under pressure.
It is a times such as these that you wonder whether the young manager feels the brooding presence of Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres in their now customary positions on the substitutes' seats behind him. Torres came on for 13 very forgettable minutes. Lampard did no more than warm-up. This is how it is now at Chelsea.
The equaliser came on 23 minutes. There was a question mark over whether Cole handled the ball as he went past Van der Vaart on the left side, the ball ricocheting up and striking him. Clear of the Spurs man he crossed the ball for Sturridge in the centre to score. Shortly after Drogba, jumping behind Kyle Walker, took Raul Meireles' cross from the right on his chest and struck the ball first time. He hit the post.
Then the injuries started to undermine Chelsea. Both Branislav Ivanovic and John Obi Mikel were hobbling and for Villas-Boas there was no obvious replacement for the former. In the end Paulo Ferreira came on at right-back and Bosingwa was moved to centre-half. It was far from ideal but with Alex out the picture there was no option.
Despite that the second half was much better for Chelsea. Terry had a header saved. Sandro, the Spurs midfielder, put a header wide. In the last six minutes of the game, chances started to present themselves. Bale shot over. Cech pushed away a shot from Sandro that took a nasty deflection off Meireles. Then came Ramires' header, wide from Mata's cross.
Terry's clearance behind Cech was the final major act of the game. Villas-Boas was delighted, and given the issues he has had to manage at Chelsea this week, it is little wonder why.
Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire).