Fulham 1 Chelsea 1
Clint Dempsey’s late equaliser rescued a point for Fulham in the west London derby and prevented Chelsea from moving level on points with fourth-placed Tottenham.
Spurs’ home defeat against Norwich earlier in the day handed the Blues a golden opportunity to catch their rivals.
They looked set to do just that courtesy of Frank Lampard’s penalty, but Dempsey nodded home Damien Duff’s 82nd-minute corner to give the Whites a deserved draw.
It was Dempsey’s 22nd goal of a remarkable season for the American, whose header deflected off Chelsea defender Gary Cahill and into the net.
The visitors struggled to create chances yet found themselves ahead at the interval.
They appealed in vain for a penalty when Ryan Bertrand’s shot hit Stephen Kelly’s hand, but were given a spot-kick in first-half injury time after Danny Murphy’s two-footed challenge on Salomon Kalou.
Lampard duly steppped up to net his 150th league goal and again underline the midfielder’s continued importance to his team’s cause.
It was tough on Martin Jol’s side, who had enjoyed most of the possession with Dempsey and Kerim Frei bringing saves from keeper Petr Cech.
Fulham – and the excellent Frei in particular – caused Chelsea problems after the break and John Arne Riise went close to equalising with a curling effort.
Frei’s pace and trickery tested Branislav Ivanovic, while John Terry looked every inch like a man struggling through the pain barrier.
Terry, who is nursing a rib injury, was recalled to the starting line-up along with Lampard, Ramires, Kalou, John Obi Mikel and Fernando Torres as interim boss Roberto Di Matteo – aware of his team’s packed fixtures list – rang the changes.
The Italian’s selections have proved to be spot-on since he took charge, and Chelsea were on course for their ninth win in 11 matches under him before they shipped yet another late goal.
Cech produced a fine save at his near post to push away Aaron Hughes’ header from Duff’s corner.
But the resulting follow-up corner by Duff was met by Dempsey, whose leveller was the 20th goal this season Chelsea have conceded in the final 10 minutes of a league game.