Chelsea 1 Fulham 1: Dempsey dents Blues” race for the title as Torres fails on rare start
Clint Dempsey cancelled out Juan Mata”s opener to deliver another blow to Chelsea”s hopes of sneaking back into the title race.
Chelsea took the lead shortly after the break when Mata fired home but the lead lasted less than 10 minutes.
A game manager Andre Villas-Boas had hand picked for Fernando Torres to rebuild his shattered confidence proved another nightmare outing for the 50million man.
Slotting home: Clint Dempsey eases the ball past Petr Cech
Take that: Dempsey is mobbed by Danny Murphy
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa (Ferreira 81), Luiz, Terry, Cole, Meireles, Romeu, Lampard (Malouda 61), Sturridge (Drogba 70), Torres, Mata.
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Lukaku, McEachran, Kalou.
Goals: Mata 47.
Fulham: Stockdale, Kelly, Hangeland, Senderos, Riise, Dempsey, Murphy, Frei, Dembele, Sa (Kasami 82), Ruiz.
Subs Not Used: Etheridge, Sidwell, Baird, Hughes, Etuhu, Briggs.
Goals: Dempsey 56.
Ref: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).
This was also meant to be the match where Chelsea got their championship challenge back on track after two straight 1-1 draws away from home.
However, they completed an unwanted hat-trick to leave them 10 points behind Manchester City ahead of the leaders” trip to West Brom.
Torres, making his first league startfor almost two months, did inadvertently lay on Mata”s 47th-minute opener but Dempsey equalised nine minutes later before Fulham goalkeeperDavid Stockdale kept Chelsea at bay.
Torres, whose current goal drought stretched back nine matches, had been hoping for a Boxing Day gift from aside that shipped five against Manchester United on Wednesday and who were without the injured Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson.
One man Stamford Bridge did provide some sanctuary for was Chelsea captain John Terry following the barracking he received at Tottenham on Thursday over his charge for alleged racist abuse.
Legend: Former Chelsea player Jimmy Greaves was paraded at Stamford Bridge
Rare chance: Fernando Torres (right) was recalled to the Chelsea XI
Support: Chelsea fans showed their backing for John Terry
Terry played like a man on a mission at White Hart Lane and he and his team-mates needed another good performance to maintain their dwindling title hopes.
Fulham looked determined to spoil allthat, Dempsey going a little far with a cynical tug on Raul Meireles that saw the American booked.
Otherwise, they were the better side for 15 minutes, with Dempsey”s bouncing 25-yard shot forcing an uncomfortable save from Petr Cech and Orlando Sa seeing an effort blocedby David Luiz before wasting a great chance when he headed Stephen Kelly”s cross over the bar.
Torres, who had already had half a sniff, was unlucky not to give Chelsea the lead when he expertly controlled Mata”s cross on his chest but smashed his volley straight at Stockdale.
Torres then robbed Brede Hangeland onthe edge of the box and laid off to Daniel Sturridge to slice off target but Fulham settled down again and Mousa Dembele dragged wide after bypassing Oriol Romeu.
Finishing school: Juan Mata shows how it”s done for the opener
Good lad! Ashley Cole hugs Mata after his strike for Chelsea
Although Jose Bosingwa sent in some dangerous crosses, Chelsea were struggling to produce a telling ball against what was at times a nine-man defence, with Raul Meireles and Romeu resorting to wayward potshots.
The stalemate continued until two minutes before the break when Dembele sent a tame header too close to Cech.
Chelsea paraded Jimmy Greaves at half-time and their fans could have been forgiven for wishing he was playing up front for them.
Torres” travails looked to have continued after the restart but the striker helped the Blues break the deadlock inside two minutes.
The 50million man failed to control Ashley Cole”s cross but the ball fell perfectly for Mata to sweep home left footed from the edge of the box.
Fulham had only scored four league goals away from home all season, the worst record in the top flight but they were soon level with a superbly-worked goal.
No way through: Orlando Sa has his shot blocked by David Luiz
The ball eventually found its way to Bryan Ruiz on the right, who tricked his way past Cole and crossed for Dempsey to stab past Cech.
Villas-Boas took action just past the hour mark, hauling off Frank Lampard for Florent Malouda.
The change almost paid off when the Frenchman”s backheel from Terry”s header hit the feet of Stockdale and bounced back off Malouda for a goalkick.
That came after the goalkeeper tipped over Sturridge”s curler and before Bosingwa was cautioned for felling Kerim Frei.
Drogba failed to beat Stockdale from atight angle after gathering a terrific long ball from Luiz and Meirelescurled a superb shot on the turn just past the post.
A masked Paulo Ferreira replaced Bosingwa in Chelsea”s final change, Fulham responding by sending on Pajtim Kasami for Sa.
Stockdale twice denied Chelsea a latewinner, tipping Meireles” header from Malouda”s cross over the bar, before palming away Drogba”s glance from a corner.
The keeper nearly spilt Malouda”s long-range drive and Chelsea almost paid the ultimate price when Kasami shot tamely at Cech before Stockdale”s fingertips again denied them fromDrogba”s stoppage-time free-kick.
Catch me if you can: Mousa Dembele tries to get past Oriol Romeu
Dejection: Chelsea”s players look on at another missed opportunity