Chelsea were made to pay for more costly mistakes as APOEL Nicosia increased the gloom around Stamford Bridge with a 2-2 draw in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.
Back to back defeats over the last seven days to Blackburn in the League Cup and Manchester City in the Premier League had brought the Blues crashing down to earth after their much-lauded win at Arsenal. Carlo Ancelotti's side were hoping for a convincing victory over the Cypriot champions to restore morale, but the Blues were undermined by more of the careless errors that proved so crucial in those recent disappointing results.
John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were exposed by Marcin Zewlakow's early opener for APOEL and, although Michael Essien and Didier Drogba put Chelsea ahead before half-time, the hosts had to settle for a draw when John Obi Mikel's blunder presented Nenad Mirosavljevic with a late equaliser. While the result does no harm to Chelsea's European prospects as they had already won Group D, Ancelotti will be concerned by another lacklustre display that left them without a win in three matches.
The Italian said: "I am unhappy. We went a goal down and did a good reaction, scored two goals and played with intensity. But the second half was totally different. We lost concentration, had no intensity and played too slowly, too soft. We have to play 90 minutes with intensity and concentration.
"The result is not important," he went on. "It is important to play our best in every game. I spoke with my players. The first goal can happen, the second goal, no. The second goal is the consequence of our poor play."
Ancelotti, who rested Nicolas Anelka, Ashley Cole and Petr Cech and gave French midfielder Gael Kakuta and goalkeeper Ross Turnbull their first starts, must have found it hard to understand the slack defending that allowed APOEL to take a shock lead in the sixth minute. When Constantinos Charalambides slipped a clever pass from the left wing towards the six-yard box, Terry and Carvalho appealed for offside rather than clearing and, with the flag rightly staying down, Zewlakow was able to guide a low shot past Turnbull at his near post.
Joe Cole thought he had equalised when he headed home Florent Malouda's cross, but the midfielder's effort was ruled out for offside. Chelsea didn't have to wait long to draw level. In the 19th minute, Essien worked a yard of space 25 yards from goal and unleashed a ferocious swerving strike that flashed past APOEL goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis.
That was Essien's last contribution as he limped off moments later after pulling up in mid-stride. The Ghanaian’s departure didn't unsettle Chelsea as they moved in front in fine style in the 26th minute. Signing Kakuta from Lens could cost Chelsea dearly if they are unable to overturn a two-year transfer embargo as punishment for inducing the 18-year-old's move.
But the teenager, the youngest Chelsea player ever to feature in the UEFA Champions League, is regarded as one of the brightest prospects in Europe and he showed enough flashes of skill to suggest he will be worth the hassle. He started the move that led to Chelsea's second goal with an incisive run and perfectly weighted pass to Yuri Zhirkov. The Russian cut the ball back to Drogba, who shot low past Chiotis for his 16th goal of the season.
Frank Lampard, on for Essien, went close to increasing Chelsea's lead just before half-time with a skimming shot that went just the wrong side of the post. It took APOEL some time to recover from Chelsea's two-goal blast but they made a bright start to the second half when Turnbull dived low to his left to keep out a deflected shot from former Blues midfielder Nuno Morais.
Cole almost put the result beyond doubt with a cross that drifted over Chiotis and glanced off the top of the crossbar before Terry had a late effort disallowed for offside. But Chelsea had lost any sense of urgency by now and they were made to pay for their lethargy in the 87th minute.
Mikel's under-hit pass back to Terry left the England defender with no chance of reaching the ball and Mirosavljevic stole possession, advanced on goal and calmly slotted his shot under Turnbull.