Chelsea's faint hopes of a late Premier League title charge faded after the champions were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by mid-table Stoke City. Didier Drogba's first goal since 24 January rescued a point for Carlo Ancelotti's side after Jon Walters had fired Stoke ahead at the Britannia Stadium.
The result, though, almost certainly ended Chelsea's remote title challenge. Ancelotti's club are now 11 points behind leaders Manchester United with eight games remaining. Manchester United's 4-2 victory over West Ham earlier meant Chelsea had to win all of their remaining nine games to stand any chance of retaining the title.
With Fernando Torres starting on the substitutes bench ahead of next week's UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg with United, Ancelotti's team got off to the worst possible start.
Former Chelsea defender Robert Huth had already headed over the bar when Walters got the better of David Luiz just inside the visitors' half before embarking on a powerful run. Walters, a £2.75 million pound signing from Ipswich in August, cut inside the Chelsea area before picking his spot after neatly wrong-footing Michael Essien.
Chelsea, who had won six of their previous eight league games, responded through Ashley Cole's header from 12 yards, saved by Asmir Begovic, and a volley from Florent Malouda which flashed narrowly wide of the target.
However, they endured a major scare in the 24th minute when John Terry went down after a hefty challenge with Glenn Whelan, the Chelsea captain only getting to his feet after receiving treatment.
Drogba to the rescue
Ancelotti wore the look of a man with plenty of problems, but the Italian was smiling again when Chelsea conjured up a 33rd-minute equaliser after great play from his forwards. The Chelsea manager had raised eyebrows by leaving Torres out, but his selection was vindicated as his preferred front pairing combined to draw Chelsea level with Nicolas Anelka's cross headed home brilliantly on the dive by Drogba.
Anelka caused the Stoke defence countless problems and was unfortunate with a 47th-minute effort from the edge of the area which whistled narrowly wide as the visitors started the second half brightly.
But Stoke have claimed some impressive scalps on their patch this season. Liverpool and Manchester City have both failed to win at the Britannia Stadium and Chelsea were thankful for Petr Cech after Jermaine Pennant was presented with a fine chance to restore Stoke's lead.
Fortunately for Chelsea, the former Liverpool player's goal-bound effort was kept out by Cech's foot before Drogba was denied by the woodwork at the other end in the 50th minute.
Stoke, who finished strongly, were full value for their point. It might have been three points, but Marc Wilson's 66th minute free kick was tipped on to the woodwork by Cech before the Chelsea keeper again came to his side's rescue to deny Huth.