Aston Villa 0 Chelsea 0
Aston Villa put another dent in Chelsea’s hopes of completing a Premiership title hat-trick by deservedly holding Jose Mourinho’s side at Villa Park.
Chelsea failed to take advantage of Manchester United’s slip-up at Newcastle yesterday and are six points adrift of Alex Ferguson’s side after the completion of the festive programme.
The Blues managed to stem the flow of goals conceded – eight in the previous four league matches – but drew a blank at the other end of the pitch after 20-goal Didier Drogba spurned their best chance in the opening minutes.
Chelsea controlled the majority of the first half with Drogba finding space all over the pitch and Frank Lampard looking impressive in the centre of the park.
But Villa were always competitive with Gavin McCann and Steven Davis battling for everything in midfield while left-back Wilfred Bouma – only playing because captain Gareth Barry was suspended – had one of his best games for the club.
The home side, who had drawn at Stamford Bridge in September, got stronger as the game wore on and in the second period looked the more likely to break the deadlock with Gabriel Agbonlahor and Juan Pablo Angel posing more of a threat.
Although they have now gone 10 matches without a win this will act as a massive confidence boost for Villa ahead of two games in a week against Manchester United, starting with Sunday’s FA Cup clash.
Chelsea, with injured captain John Terry watching from the stands, were soon on the offensive and Lampard had a powerful 20-yard effort blocked by Gary Cahill while Bouma produced a fine tackle to halt the recalled Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Drogba missed a golden opportunity to put the visitors ahead after eight minutes.
Michael Essien made a powerful run down the right after skipping past Liam Ridgewell’s challenge and his centre found Drogba completely unmarked in the centre.
But the Chelsea striker opted for the volley and the ball bounced down and over Gabor Kiraly’s crossbar.
More good play by Essien set up a shooting chance for the influential Frank Lampard and his goal-bound low drive deflected off the heel of Villa defender Gary Cahill.
Ridgewell was again left stranded by a surging run from Drogba and it needed Olof Mellberg to make a crucial headed interception at the near post to deny Salomon Kalou.
Ricardo Carvalho had a header deflected over from a Lampard corner.
The home side were forced into a substitution after 27 minutes when Craig Gardner over-stretched to reach the ball and was replaced by Isaiah Osbourne.
Drogba was finding space all over Villa Park and one teasing right-wing centre picked out the run of Ashley Cole whose header was saved at the second attempt by Kiraly.
Chelsea had to make their own substitution after 34 minutes when Khalid Boulahrouz limped out of the action to be replaced by Geremi.
A first time pass out of defence by Geremi picked out the run of Lampard but Villa were fortunate he over-hit his pass to the overlapping Kalou.
The combative McCann became the first player to be booked a minute before the interval for a foul on Essien – his eighth yellow card of the season.
Villa looked wound up for the second period and Drogba could have no complaints after receiving a yellow card for showing dissent towards referee Phil Dowd after the official had awarded Villa a free-kick.
Angel beat the offside trap to race onto a ball chipped over the Chelsea defence by Agbonlahor but Hilario was quickly off his line to grab the ball at the feet of the player.
Mourinho decided to make his first substitution after 66 minutes with Wright-Phillips, who had been well policed by Bouma, replaced by Andriy Shevchenko.
Ridgewell came close to snatching a Villa winner when his back-header from Bouma’s corner flew only inches wide of the far post.
Petrov had a powerful drive deflected wide but in the last minute Lampard fired over from close range.