Sunderland again proved the scourge of Chelsea by holding the Barclays Premier League leaders to a 0-0 draw at the Stadium of Light.
Jose Mourinho's men had scored in every league outing this season, yet could not find a way through against the team who handed them their last domestic defeat. The pre-match expectation was for Chelsea, six points clear of their nearest challengers at kick-off, to collect an 11th win from 13 league outings this season. Yet the Black Cats, who triumphed 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in April, more than held their own for long periods.
The best chances were split in the opening period, Willian and Santiago Vergini each hitting the woodwork. Sunderland had the better opportunities in the second half and Chelsea might feel relieved to have left with their unbeaten record intact.
The early signs were ominous for the home side as Chelsea knocked the ball around with the confidence of a side topping the table. But Sunderland, driven by a raucous crowd and the tough-tackling Lee Cattermole, began to find a foothold in the game, epitomised by Connor Wickham curling an effort just over the crossbar.
That was a rare journey forward for the hosts in the opening exchanges, with Chelsea almost breaking the deadlock when Willian's low drive struck the outside of a post. Mourinho's side looked threatening every time they went forward and Sunderland were indebted to a fine sliding challenge from John O'Shea that denied Costa a shot on goal.
The resolute defending of Gus Poyet's side was best summed up by Cattermole, who threw his body in the way of several goalbound efforts. Costel Pantilimon was also alert when his time came, brilliantly saving with his right leg to deny Branislav Ivanovic after the right-back had been freed by Willian's pass. Sunderland fashioned a great opening soon after, though, as Cattermole's deflected cross ran into the path of Vergini, whose volley hit the crossbar.
The visitors came out with plenty of intent after the break, Pantilimon keeping out a Gary Cahill header from Cesc Fabregas's corner. Willian was the next to threaten, striking narrowly wide from 20 yards as Chelsea began to turn the screw. Undeterred, Sunderland continued to grow in confidence and made life uncomfortable for their opponents.
They almost went ahead with 11 minutes remaining when the substitute Jozy Altidore wriggled his way into the area before seeing his close-range effort blocked. Adam Johnson spurned an even better opportunity soon after, poking narrowly wide from 12 yards after Altidore had again caused problems.
Chelsea continued to look vulnerable, Johnson threatening again with a curling 20-yard effort that skidded just wide, but there was to be no breakthrough for either side, and the Blues must settle for a seven-point lead over second-placed Southampton, who host Manchester City, in third, on Sunday afternoon.
Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet: “I am realistic so I am pleased. To have the chance to get something against a team like Chelsea, first you need to defend - and do it properly.
"We did that. That's a minimum. We had chances at the end because there was space. You never know if it's fate or not but we need to be pleased with the performance. It was our best for a while."
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: “It was difficult. They [Sunderland] had spent one week preparing for the match and had a clear strategy. Many people criticise defensive teams. I don't do that because you have to do it well and they did.
"We always tried to play and move the ball but they defended very, very well. I praise them for their success in getting a clean sheet. I have no negative words to my players because they tried everything and were not successful. It was a fair result. We are not happy with a point but we have to be mature and experienced enough to know every match is difficult in this league.
"We don't cry about injured or suspended players. If he is suspended, he is suspended. We have Drogba and Remy. We are top of the league and we have another match on Wednesday.”
|06 Dec 2014||v Liverpool (A)|
|03 Dec 2014||v Man City (H)|
|13 Dec 2014||v West Ham (H)|
|21 Dec 2014||v Newcastle (A)|
|26 Dec 2014||v Hull (H)|
|28 Dec 2014||v Aston Villa (A)|