Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti was left to rue a late penalty miss from Didier Drogba as Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes went from villain to hero in a dramatic 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
Ancelotti's spluttering side were heading for a fifth defeat in nine games after Roman Pavlyuchenko's first-half strike put Spurs in front. But Gomes gifted Chelsea an equaliser with 20 minutes left when he allowed Drogba's shot to escape his grasp and loop into the net.
Drogba had a golden opportunity to steal the points for Chelsea when Gomes conceded a stoppage time penalty, but the Côte D'Ivoire striker saw his spot-kick brilliantly saved by the Brazilian.
Chelsea were well below their best once again and Ancelotti, under increasing pressure in recent weeks, will be cursing Drogba's miss, which leaves the Blues one point behind Arsenal ahead of the leaders' trip to Manchester United tomorrow.
Ancelotti said: "Drogba was unlucky. He had a good performance and scored a goal. The performance of the team was good. We tried to do everything to win, we didn't do it, but I think we are on the right way. We were very close to winning."
Spurs boss Harry Redknapp added: "It was exciting, which is what people pay to watch. It was end to end stuff and wide open, both teams did a lot of attacking but the end product wasn't there."
Several previous Chelsea managers were sacked for less than the team's miserable run of just two wins in their last eight games, so it was a brave move by Ancelotti to leave Drogba on the bench. Although Drogba has struggled to recapture the form that made him the Premier League's top scorer last season, he remains Chelsea's most potent attacking option and his side were toothless without him in the first half.
If Drogba's absence played a part in Chelsea's slow start, they were hindered even more by a continued lack of security at the back. Once the cornerstone of Chelsea's success, Ancelotti's defence now gifts chances with alarming regularity and Pavlyuchenko took full advantage to open the scoring in the 15th minute.
When Jermain Defoe cut infield and found Pavlyuchenko in the penalty area, Chelsea captain John Terry should have closed down the Russian striker. Instead he and John Obi Mikel sat back and allowed Pavlyuchenko to drill a low shot past Cech at his near-post. Replays showed Defoe may have been just offside before crossing, but that was no excuse for Chelsea's poor defending.
Over 25 minutes passed before Gomes was seriously tested when Salomon Kalou's header from Nicolas Anelka's cross forced the Brazilian into action. Another Chelsea defensive lapse should have been punished with a second goal for Pavlyuchenko, but he couldn't keep his shot on target after running unmarked onto Gareth Bale's free-kick.
Only Florent Malouda was providing a sustained threat for Chelsea and he set up two chances for Kalou, who glanced his first header wide and then skied the next headed effort well over. Chelsea had plenty of possession as the half wore on but there was no cutting edge and it was no surprise when Ancelotti sent on Drogba for Mikel at the interval.
Drogba makes difference
Drogba's arrival almost paid immediate dividends as his long-range shot was pushed away for a corner by Gomes, who had to make another acrobatic stop moments later to prevent Wilson Palacios heading a Drogba cross into his own net.
With Drogba up front, Chelsea at last had some focus to their attacks. They lacked composure at times, but that didn't matter as Gomes gifted Chelsea their equaliser in the 70th minute.
Drogba showed tremendous strength and skill to control a hopeful punt and flick it past Michael Dawson. However, his shot was straight at Gomes and should have been saved. Instead the Brazilian's weak attempted stop only managed to push the ball into his net to the delight of Ancelotti and his players.
Ancelotti sent on Frank Lampard for his first appearance in over three months with 12 minutes remaining and Chelsea pressed forward for a winner. It should have arrived in stoppage time when Gomes conceded a penalty by barging into Ramires, but the goalkeeper redeemed himself as he dived to keep out Drogba's spot-kick.
"I thought we deserved to win the game, especially in the second half, we dominated," Chelsea captain John Terry told Sky Sports."That's more like the Chelsea we know."
"We've got two huge games now. We've got Man United at the Bridge and then we go to the Emirates (to play Arsenal). At the minute, nobody's playing particularly well. Arsenal are looking good, Man United also, but no-one's hit their top form."
Redknapp said: "The problem Chelsea have had is simple. They've had Lampard missing, Drogba struggling, they've had (Michael) Essien out and John Terry out. When Chelsea have got their best players back, they are a different team. And when we get everybody back, we'll be stronger. I think it's got the makings of a fantastic championship."