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15 Feb 2011

Petr Cech's last-minute penalty stop salvaged Chelsea a point at Fulham but their title hopes continue to fade.

The hosts rarely threatened before Clint Dempsey was fouled by David Luiz in stoppage time, only for Cech to keep out the American's spot-kick.

Fernando Torres was wasteful as Chelsea dominated, the Spaniard's touch letting him down when put through by Luiz and then nodding over a cross by Ramires.

Michael Essien went close with a header before the late drama unfolded.

It was a breathtaking finish to a match that had, up until the 93rd minute, been a quite unspectacular event.

Fulham, on the back of three home victories, would have sensed more blood going into this battle at Craven Cottage against the defending Premier League champions and although they created precious little, Mark Hughes' team will rue their missed opportunity to snatch victory and rise to ninth in the table.

It was a mistake by Luiz, who otherwise had been a phenomenal performer for the visitors, that gifted Fulham their late chance. The Brazilian carelessly knocked into the legs of Dempsey to concede the penalty but was reprieved when the American blasted straight at Cech's tall frame and then acrobatically blazed the rebound high and wide.

The late heroics by Cech may have salvaged a point for Chelsea, but it was not the win demanded by boss Carlo Ancelotti and his fifth-place side are now 12 points off leaders Manchester United with 12 games remaining - and a top-four Champions League spot is also in the balance.

Following last weekend's defeat by Liverpool, the Italian boss opted to leave out striker Didier Drogba, with the scoring responsibilities falling to Nicolas Anelka and Torres.

And for all the possession and pretty build-up play, much of the Blues' attacks lacked bite in the final third and it was Fulham, buoyed by their recent renaissance, who created the match's first chance on eight minutes.

Damien Duff burst through on the right to cross for Andrew Johnson lurking in the six-yard box and only a timely interception by Luiz guided the ball high and over the bar.

Luiz, making his first start for the defending champions following his recent £21m move from Benfica, was showing plenty of assured touches at the back and also going forward but chances continued to be at a premium for both London sides.

Soon after Duff had a shot fumbled by Cech, the visitors produced a rare spark as they went close to an opener after half an hour.

Branislav Ivanovic was proving to be a menace wide on the right and after his cross was hooked over by Frank Lampard, the Serbian defender had a miscued shot punched over by keeper Mark Schwarzer.

Following a lacklustre debut against his former club Liverpool last week, Torres again struggled to find his feet but had two great chances before the break to make amends.

His first miss was down to a timely sliding tackle by Aaron Hughes, but the second was a shocker as the Spaniard stormed through on goal from a delicious looping through-ball from Luiz, only for the ball to bobble away off his left boot.

Torres continued to have chances after the interval and, again, he was wasteful as the 26-year-old rose well to nod over a dangerous cross from Ramires, before curling over from the left minutes later.

While Hughes barked orders from the sidelines for his increasingly cautious players to push forward, Chelsea remained dominant in possession but seemed strangely intent on shooting from long range.

After his side was refused a penalty when Florent Malouda was carelessly bundled over by Brede Hangeland, Ancelotti decided to bring on extra firepower.

With 20 minutes left, off trudged Torres, who had lasted four minutes longer than in his debut, leaving Ancelotti to hope that Drogba could come off the bench to produce some late fireworks.

The Ivorian striker showed some much-needed urgency and a chance soon fell to Essien, who narrowly missed making contact with a header after a bending cross from Lampard.

But totally against the run of play, it was Dempsey who had the last chance to steal all three points, only to be thwarted by the athleticism of Cech.

It was a scrappy encounter that only sparked occasionally into life, and despite Cech accepting the cheers at the end, this might just have been the night when Chelsea's fading hopes of back-to-back titles were finally extinguished.


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