London: Tottenham maintained their five-point lead over Chelsea in the Premier League with an action-packed 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Juan Mata came closest for the hosts in the second half, curling a free-kick onto the upright with Brad Friedel rooted to the spot.
However, Spurs had perhaps had the best of the chances, with blocks on the line from Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor, and a Gareth Bale header off their bar their biggest openings.
In his sixth game in charge of the Blues, Roberto Di Matteo made five changes to the side which lost 2-1 to Manchester City in mid-week. Captain John Terry and full-back Jose Bosingwa returned in defence in the place of Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz, whilst former Liverpool duo Raul Meireles and Fernando Torres made way for Daniel Sturridge and Didier Drogba respectively. Elsewhere, Jon Obi Mikel dropped to the bench as Michael Essien took up his place in midfield.
Spurs skipper Ledley King dropped out of the visitors’ starting lineup for ex- Chelsea defender William Gallas, due to his inability to complete consecutive games in a short space of time, as Sandro replaced Niko Krancjar in midfield. Adebayor, who missed the mid-week game against his parent club, came in for Louis Saha.
Tottenham came into the game having never won a Premier League game at Stamford Bridge, and they looked like a side bereft of the confidence to buck that trend during the opening exchanges. Several nervy passes saw the visitors lose possession and they were very nearly opened up within five minutes as Ramires passed inside to Drogba only for the Ivorian’s clever flick to run just beyond Frank Lampard’s burst into the box.
Though the early threat had at first appeared to settle Harry Redknapp’s side, they were almost caught cold again just 10 minutes in as Terry’s long pass almost found Drogba alone in the box. Unfortunately for the hosts, the African forward failed to control but the opportunity to utilise his presence had been underlined.
With the sun shining down on west London, Stamford Bridge gave the appearance of an end-of-season fixture and, within 20 minutes, the game had settled into that pattern. Both sides were content to pass the ball along the back, refraining from bursting forward in fear of leaving themselves exposed.
Chelsea provided one moment of menace though, in which Drogba cleverly flicked a first-time ball behind the Spurs defence which just escaped Mata’s intelligent run, but this proved a highlight of a one-paced opening.
Runs from deep seemed to provide the hosts’ best chance of breaking a stubborn Spurs backline, but Lampard saw his penalty claims waved away as he made contact with William Gallas whilst trying to shoot following a late burst.
After a slow start, the match came to life on the half-hour mark as some desperate defending from Spurs led to a breakneck counterattack which saw Adebayor deceive two defenders before just failing to pick out full-back Kyle Walker’s back post run.
Following a brief interlude for a Drogba injury, Ashley Cole then found acres of space down the left hand side but failed to make sufficient contact with the ball and saw his cross bounce limply into the arms of Friedel.
For much of the half Spurs had failed to show the gung-ho attacking nature for which they have been widely praised this season but they almost went in at half-time with a barely deserved lead. The previously anonymous Luka Modric turned cleverly in the box before setting up Van der Vaart, only for the Dutchman to see two efforts blocked brilliantly by Petr Cech and then Ashley Cole on the line before Adebayor headed agonisingly over.
In truth, neither side’s contribution to the game warranted a lead and both sets of fans will likely have hoped for more entertainment after a cagey first period.
They very nearly got their wish as early Tottenham pressure led to a Chelsea break which saw Scott Parker just get enough on Drogba’s cross-field ball to Ramires, who would have been in on goal.
Gallas’ inability to control Drogba then again led to a chance as the forward headed powerfully into the path of the onrushing Daniel Sturridge, who powered wide of the far post on his favoured left foot.
Bale has at times been crucial for Redknapp’s men this term but much of their attacking malaise could be put down to the Welshman’s failure to have impact. That was until his jinking run from a central position allowed Walker to find space in the box, but the defender could only shoot into the side-netting with more time than he perhaps expected.
With his defence looking under more pressure from an increasingly adventurous Spurs in the second half, Di Matteo replaced Bosingwa with Luiz only for the Brazilian to see more of the ball in an attacking sense within five minutes of his introduction.
Given the cautious nature of the match, it was clear that it would take something special to break the deadlock and Mata almost provided that with 20 minutes remaining. The Spaniard stepped up to hit a free-kick from 25 yards and curled the ball onto the post with Friedel stranded.
The Blues’ frustration at failing to gain a lead led to the introduction of the much-maligned Torres in place of Essien, whilst Van der Vaart and Sandro made way for Saha and Jake Livermore as the visitors looked to freshen things up.
The substitutions did seem to add more attacking impetus to both sides but Drogba typified the toothless nature of both forward lines as he shot tamely when given the opportunity to turn in the box.
Spurs’ African forward, Adebayor, then showed equal wastefulness at the at the other end moments later as he rounded Cech following a ball over the top only to allow Cahill to slide in and clear a low and weak shot. Bale, who had grown into the game as space began to open up, was then unfortunate to see his header crash back off the bar from the subsequent corner.
Both sides attempted to push forward in the closing stages, with a generous four minutes of added time given, but they tempered their attacking instincts with a loss seen as a potentially disasterous result.
Bale's low free-kick almost caught Cech by surprise at the death but the Blues defence held firm to earn a hard-fought point.