| Chelsea’s Fernando Torres and West Brom’s Ben Foster engaged in a scuffle, on Tuesday |
London: Premier League leaders Chelsea were hit by an 87th-minute sucker punch as they were held to a 1-1 draw by lowly West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday, handing the title race initiative back to Arsenal and Manchester City.
It looked like Jose Mourinho’s side would move four points clear after defender Branislav Ivanovic, who got the winner in Chelsea’s 1-0 triumph at Manchester City last week, smashed the ball home in first-half injury time to put the visitors ahead.
However, Victor Anichebe grabbed a precious point for the hosts when he headed in Saido Berahino’s cross, leaving Chelsea in pole position in the table but possibly for only 24 hours.
Chelsea now have 57 points from 26 matches, two ahead of Arsenal, who host Manchester United on Wednesday and three in front of City, who are at home to Sunderland.
At the other end of the table, West Ham United again showed they can win without suspended striker Andy Carroll as they beat Norwich City 2-0 to ease their relegation fears with a third successive victory and fourth straight clean sheet.
Second-bottom Cardiff City missed the chance to move out of the drop zone when they were held 0-0 at home to Aston Villa while Southampton jumped to eighth with a 1-0 win at Hull City.
Chelsea have found The Hawthorns an unappealing prospect in recent seasons, having lost on their previous two visits.
With Mourinho’s side having scooped 26 points from the last 30 on offer and West Brom winless in four matches under new manager Pepe Mel, few predicted anything other than a win that would see Chelsea’s title challenge marching on relentlessly.
Chelsea had kept six clean sheets in their last eight games, so the writing appeared to be on the wall for the hosts when visiting Serbian defender Ivanovic blasted home from a corner.
But with the clock ticking down, Chelsea’s defence was disrupted by an injury to Gary Cahill, who left the pitch with a calf problem, only to return seconds before Anichebe rose to flick his header into the net off the foot of the post.
The point moved West Brom out of the relegation zone above Sunderland on goal difference and left Mourinho trying to put a positive spin on a result that could have a decisive impact on the title race.
“We were comfortable in the game, maybe too comfortable. We didn’t kill the game when we had the chance,” Mourinho said. “In this moment we have one more point than before. If Arsenal and City win tomorrow they go above us but that is their job. Every game is difficult and every team needs points.”
West Ham and Norwich had identical records coming into their clash but the momentum of recent results was with the Hammers. Their third straight win came courtesy of two late goals, with James Collins giving them the lead after 84 minutes when he beat Norwich keeper John Ruddy to a Mohamed Diame cross and flicked a header home.
Diame made the game safe in added time, latching on to a clearance, running the length of the pitch and dispatching the ball into the net with the help of a deflection.
West Ham, whose defence was the butt of jokes following some heavy defeats in January, have now kept four clean sheets in the league for the first time since 1985.
“I had the chairman ringing me up to say we had not won under lights this season or last and that was in my mind,” manager Sam Allardyce said.
“Our goalkeeper kept us in the game and we scored late, when it is hard for anybody to come back into it. It's a great end to an important run of fixtures.” Jose Fonte scored the only goal as Southampton improved their prospects of securing European football by winning a tight encounter against Hull at the KC Stadium.
Fonte’s effort in the 69th minute was adjudged to have crossed the line by goalline technology and left Hull three points above the relegation zone. (Reuters)