Chelsea dropped two precious points at the KC Stadium against Hull City on Tuesday evening. A 1-1 draw extended Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League to two points, but with tricky fixtures coming up against Arsenal and Everton, the Blues will very much see this draw as a wasted opportunity.
Didier Drogba returned to the line-up for the first time since 28th December after Ivory Coast’s surprisingly premature exit from the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. His was of course unavailable for the original fixture back on January 9th. Deco and Carvalho also came in to the team which scraped past Burnley on Saturday; Alex and the two Coles made way.
Frank Lampard had an early drive saved by Boaz Myhill before Nicolas Anelka fluffed the rebound, while Michael Ballack should have done better when meeting Branislav Ivanovic’s expert cross with a diving header, the German only capable of picking out Myhill. Hull were playing well, with Stephen Hunt particularly impressing on the left side of midfield, much to the chagrin of the travelling Chelsea faithful and the troubled Ivanovic. A Hunt corner was met by an unmarked Steven Mouyokolo who comfortably headed past Petr Cech in the 29th minute, a set-piece again proving the Blues’ undoing, the 15th time they have conceded from one in the league alone this campaign.
Chelsea responded with some resistance, but Hull were still playing the more effective football, their midfield succeeding in overrunning ours, whilst the Tigers’ front two of Altidore and Venegoor of Hesselink caused Carvalho and the much derided John Terry problems all evening. However Chelsea did manage to level the score before half-time. Anelka was fouled outside the box, referee Mark Clattenburg played the advantage, then Lampard was clearly felled inside the box. Clattenburg brought play back to the original foul, but it needn’t have mattered. Drogba, with his first real involvement in the game, struck the free-kick low and with precision, bouncing just inside the far post. It wasn’t especially deserved but Chelsea had a route back in to the game.
They should have fallen behind again, though, Anthony Gardner guilty of missing an easy header when picked out by Cairney from yet another set-piece. The former Spurs player was a mere 6 yards out from goal and with no Chelsea player in sight. The interval did little to halt Chelsea’s problems at defending set-pieces – in the 46th minute Altidore found himself unmarked from a free-kick but could only flick the ball into Cech’s grateful arms.
Chelsea offered occasional moments of inspiration, but they were certainly occasional. Lampard had another long-range drive comfortably blocked by Myhill, who also stopped a decent effort from Malouda and Drogba and Terry headers in quick succession. Chelsea (and England’s) captain endured something of a torrid evening, unable to really get to grips with Altidore and also receiving a barrage of abuse from the vocal home support. Having enquired as to the whereabouts of his wife (Dubai, we’re led to believe) the Tigers faithful brilliantly warned substitute Ashley Cole to ‘Watch your wife’, an amusing riposte to what was otherwise painful viewing for those from London.
Another substitute, Daniel Sturridge, almost won the game in injury time with an early, stinging volley from outside the box, but yet again Myhill was Chelsea’s equal, tipping the ball wide for a corner. That proved Chelsea’s final chance and marked another disappointing away performance, the win at Burnley our only one in our last five matches. We certainly didn’t deserve more than a point and the fact we made Hull look so impressive was indicative of a dire team performance; no one shone and it is left to Ancelotti and co to pick up the pieces in time for two testing games against Arsenal and at Everton. If Chelsea desire to still be top of the league after next Wednesday’s fixture at Goodison Park there has to be a marked improvement on this trip to Humberside.