MATCH REPORT: WEST BROMWICH ALBION 1 CHELSEA 1
A late header from Victor Anichebe cancelled out Branislav Ivanovic's first-half opener and denied us the chance to extend our lead at the top to four points.
Though we were far from our recent fluent best, it had looked like the Serbian's goal on the stroke of half-time would be enough for a dogged three points, but with Baggies pressure mounting they levelled with four minutes to play thanks to Anichebe's glancing header. It was the third straight home game they had recovered from a half-time deficit to draw 1-1.
Good Chelsea chances were few and far between, though Ben Foster did save well from Samuel Eto'o and Willian in the second period. The point moves us two points clear at the top of the table, but Arsenal will have a chance to go back in front tomorrow when they host Manchester United.
Jose Mourinho deemed just one change necessary from the 3-0 win over Newcastle on Saturday, replacing Frank Lampard with Ramires, who had been rested for that win over the Geordies. With Lampard absent from the starting eleven and Terry still unavailable through injury, Petr Cech was our captain for the first time this season. Fernando Torres was back and on the bench, meaning Samuel Eto'o led the line for the sixth game running.
There were four changes to the West Brom team that had started their last game, a 3-1 loss at Crystal Palace, most notably in attack, where Saido Berahino and Thievy Bifouma - a scorer on his debut at Selhurst Park - led the line with Morgan Amalfitano, who started on the right wing. Behind him, Steven Reid came in for the injured Billy Jones.
With the snow tumbling down at a chilly Hawthorns as play got underway, the conditions felt more appropriate for skiing in Sochi than football in the West Midlands.
There was little action of note in the opening stages to warm the heart, though an adventurous if poorly executed effort from Ivanovic - attempted from an awful long way out as Ben Foster was caught out of goal after a bad clearance - appeared to awaken anyone in the ground still frozen from the wintry weather.
Willing and well-timed movement from Eto'o in behind the Baggies backline proved an early theme of our play, but after one such run had created a decent opening for Oscar inside the box, the Brazilian's touch deserted him and the chance was lost. It summed up an error-strewn opening 20 minutes.
Eto'o again latched on to a Willian pass beyond the West Brom defence and having cutely slipped his marker, the striker played it across the six-yard box in the direction of Ivanovic. A tangle of legs met the ball before it was eventually hacked clear by Claudio Yacob. Not long after, Willian thundered a shot not far over from 20 yards out.
The home side, with new signing Thievy and England Under-21 striker Berahino causing problems, nearly combined to great effect with 27 minutes on the clock. Amalfitano raced clear down the right and crossed well, picking out Berahino at the back post. He cushioned the ball into Thievy's path but the Frenchman opted to take a touch when a first-time shot was required. Brunt's follow-up strike was wide.
Three dangerous Chelsea crosses in quick succession, first from Ramires and then one apiece from Oscar and Hazard, caused problems but nobody in black - the colour of our kit tonight - was in the right spot to benefit.
A struggle of a first half looked like it would end goalless but there was a breakthrough for the Blues before the half-time whistle was blown. Eto'o won a cheap corner and with the additional two minutes of time signalled by ref Anthony Taylor almost up, Willian delivered low. His compatriot David Luiz's near-post run was therefore timely, and it was matched by a delightful flick that worked the ball further towards goal. Ivanovic was on hand to thump the ball home from close range. Just like in the reverse fixture this season, it was in time added on at the end of a half that we had found the net.
Despite the interval lead, Jose Mourinho will have been hoping for better from his side after the break.
The early signs were promising as Oscar went close with a well-hit volley from just outside the box inside a minute of the restart, before Eto'o drew a decent stop from Foster. That chance began when Hazard, the most fouled player in the division, was tugged back by Yacob but play was waved on and Oscar was able to slip Eto'o in. Amalfitano had been booked in the first half for chopping down our Belgian winger and it was no surprise Yacob went the same way. Seemingly struggling with an injury, he was soon replaced by Youssouf Mulumbu.
Foster was in called into action again when Willlian stung his palms from range, the save made harder by a slight deflection off McAuley. This was more like it.
An increasingly fractured game was still lacking quality, but Hazard majestically took on a ball over the top from Ramires and backheeled to Eto'o. From a tight angle the Cameroonian could only fire wide. He was immediately replaced by Torres, making his first appearance since the home win over Manchester United three weeks ago.
The Spaniard was involved immediately after Hazard exchanged passes with Oscar, but the Belgian dithered in sight of the posts. When he eventually got the ball across it fell to Torres and then Willian but the Brazilian's strike was straight at Foster.
West Brom then sparked into life, aided by the introduction of the busy Anichebe, and they could count themselves unlucky not to draw level in a mad spell with just over a quarter of an hour to go. First Brunt shot over after escaping Ivanovic's attention and then our box was inundated by a barrage of corners and crosses. Thievy snatched at a chance when the ball ran clear to him at the back post before Brunt flashed a shot narrowly wide, then Gareth McAuley and his centre-back partner Craig Dawson headed over and wide respectively from extremely inviting positions.
In the midst of that Ivanovic lost his rag and had to be becalmed by captain Cech as the Serbian was booked for protesting a throw-in decision. Mourinho sent on Mikel to try and ease the pressure.
But as the minutes ticked down we sat deeper and deeper, unable to stem the flow of West Brom pressure, meaning there was a grim inevitability about the leveller. Berahino swung in another teasing cross and Anichebe got there before defence and keeper, flicking the ball beyond Cech and into the net via the inside of the post.
Six minutes of additional time were called and it was the home side who threatened in injury time, Anichebe racing clear of Cahill but the defender recovered well to deny the big striker.
Willian also saw an effort well blocked with time almost up but unlike in our home game with the Baggies in November there was to be no decisive late Chelsea goal.
These were two points dropped, but there can be no doubt it was a fair result.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech (c); Ivanovic, Cahill, David Luiz, Azpilicueta; Ramires (Salah 89), Matic; Willian, Oscar (Mikel 78), Hazard; Eto'o (Torres 69).
Unused subs Schwarzer, Cole, Lampard, Schurrle.
Scorer Ivanovic 45+2
Booked Willian 66, Ivanovic 76, David Luiz 81, Matic 88.
West Bromwich Albion (4-3-3): Foster; Reid, McAuley, Dawson, Ridgewell; Yacob (Mulumbu 63), Morrison, Brunt (c); Amalfitano (Anichebe 73), Berahino, Thievy (Vydra 77).
Unused subs Myhill, Lugano, Dorrans, Gera.
Scorer Anichebe 86
Booked Amalfitano 41, Yacob 49, Anichebe 87
Referee Anthony Taylor