Doyle's heroics leave Villas-Boas in limbo

Chelsea 1 Birmingham City 1: Outlook for the Chelsea manager is no brighter as crucial penalty save stops Premier League side in their tracks and earns an under-strength Birmingham a replay from a game notable for another Torres failure

Stamford Bridge

That fine old anthem "Keep right on to the end of the road" rang round Stamford Bridge as Birmingham City celebrated a deserved draw. Schadenfreude being such an integral part of football these days, it was intermingled with chants from the visiting support directed at Andre Villas-Boas of "You're getting sacked in the morning."

That would be an odd time for even Chelsea's owners to make a change, just before a critical Champions' League tie away to the accomplished Napoli, but it is clear that much more of this and the end of the road will arrive much sooner for a bright young manager than he would have expected.

There are some things no manager can control. Had Colin Doyle, Birmingham's second-choice goalkeeper, not made a superb diving save from Juan Mata's penalty immediately after David Murphy put the Championship side in front, then, as Villas-Boas claimed, the eventual outcome would almost certainly have been different.

It was significant that Mata, not Fernando Torres, was on penalty duty and the confidence of the £50m striker can only have been further shredded by being removed at half-time after yet another inconsequential performance. He has now gone 20 games since a goal, way back in October, when it briefly looked as if things might be turning his way.

With John Terry and Ashley Cole injured – both are doubtful for the Napoli game – Villas-Boas also kept Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba in reserve, hoping the younger "new Chelsea" replacements would have enough about them to see off a team sixth in the League below. Not so. Birmingham, unbeaten in 14 games under the impressive Chris Hughton, threatened at set pieces, defended with discipline and were well worth the replay that will have St Andrew's shaking in just over a fortnight's time.

The "Bosman Blues" as they have been called after a new squad was put together on free transfers after relegation last May, were even missing their two main strikers, Marlon King and the lanky Nikola Zigic, as well as losing their captain Stephen Carr after only a dozen minutes.

They played five in midfield with a striker by the name of Rooney – Adam – working hard up front and the 17 year-old Nathan Redmond showing flashes of his precocious talent down the left. At the back Curtis Davies and the former Spanish international Pablo Ibanez stood firm until one crucial moment just after the hour when they lost Daniel Sturridge, who headed the equaliser.

Ibanez was once a team-mate of Torres at Atletico Madrid and must have been aware of how wretched is the former golden boy's form. Torres had failed miserably to seize his opportunity while Drogba was away at the African Cup of Nations. He had one good moment here, heading down a long clearance for Sturridge to volley just past the angle. Again the service was poor from an insufficiently creative midfield of Ramires, John Obi Mikel and Raul Meireles, and Chelsea only improved once Sturridge was given his wish to play more centrally, with Mata moving off the flank to play behind him and Drogba, who replaced Torres at half-time.

"An excellent performance in the second half, compared to the first," Villas-Boas said, which was one way of looking at it. "The aggressiveness, desire and ambition were there but Birmingham matched us for that and their goal gave them further motivation. You can never be satisfied when you draw at home to a Championship team and it was not good enough." To the inevitable questions about Torres he replied: "Fernando is a super talent. Eventually things will get better for him and as he gets back to his goals he'll have more confidence."

The problem, of course, is that Chelsea cannot afford to indulge their absurdly expensive striker any longer when there are games to win, or to save. So Drogba came on to encourage a more direct approach, having first been seen delivering his own pep talk to team-mates in the tunnel.

Nothing much happened for 20 minutes, except that Carr, Birmingham's experienced right-back, was forced off with a recurrence of recent knee trouble. Then Redmond won a corner on the left which several different Chelsea defenders failed to clear, allowing the left-back Murphy at the far post to drive a shot past Petr Cech. The home side immediately put together their first coherent move, which was ended when Wade Elliott tripped Ramires. Mata's penalty was by no means badly placed, but Doyle modestly admitted to "guessing right" and sprawling down to push the ball against a post.

Before the interval, he turned David Luiz's fine free-kick over the bar and held Mata's header. He was let down by his defence, however, in the 61st minute after Mata swept a pass to Branislav Ivanovic, whose perfect cross was neatly headed in by an unmarked Sturridge. "I'm even more delighted with the performance than the result," said Hughton. "At 1-1 you'd think the emphasis could swing with them. I'd still see Chelsea as favourites but I hope we can give them as good a game as we did today."

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Bertrand; Ramires, Mikel (Kalou, 57), Meireles; Sturridge, Torres (Drogba, h-t), Mata (Lampard, 83).

Birmingham (4-2-3-1): Doyle; Carr (Spector, 12) , Davies, Ibanez, Murphy; Fahey, Gomis; Elliott (Burke, 83), Mutch, Redmond; Rooney (Jervis, 71).

Referee Martin Atkinson.

Man of the match Ibanez (Birmingham).

Match rating 6/10.

AVB watch

His tactics With a Champions' League tie at Napoli on Tuesday, Andre Villas-Boas kept half a dozen of his most experienced players as substitutes, before having to send three of them on to save the game. Even before half-time he switched from the original 4-3-3 to a 4-3-1-2, which worked better, with Daniel Sturridge moving into the middle as a second striker.

His demeanour The manager was as busy as ever on the touchline, where he spent most of the game, cajoling and directing. He responded to Juan Mata's penalty miss with a series of encouraging handclaps but had to endure booing from his own supporters when taking off the Spaniard to send on Frank Lampard.

His verdict In summary, better in the second half than in the first, but not a good enough result or performance. Confidence, he admits, is lacking and will only return to the team as a whole, as with Fernando Torres, when results improve. "It will be a difficult game at St Andrew's, where Birmingham are undefeated in the League."

His prospects The Napoli tie, he insists, will be decided over two legs, by which time there will have been three winnable League games and the Birmingham replay. Confident about his future? "It's not up to me to decide that."

Steve Tongue

Look who's ready to move in...

Chelsea and Arsenal will be on high alert after Pep Guardiola yesterday admitted he could leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

The 41-year-old coach, who has just three months left on his current deal, also denied he would only leave the Nou Camp to take a year away from football.

Guardiola, who has been at Barcelona for four years, said: "I can't be at such a demanding club with so many expectations without being certain that I have the strength to do it. I still don't have it clear in mind.

"I have always said that I am better off here than in any other place but to renew my contract I have to feel sure. I feel that it is better to have a bit more time. If that is OK then fine if not then too bad, I have to be true to myself."

Asked about the common perception at the club that he would only quit Barcelona to take a sabbatical, rather than move straight to another club he said: "That is not a decision that I will make now. I will make that decision when the time comes. Now while I am undecided I am thinking day-by-day".

Pete Jenson

The Aviva Premiership trophy
rugby union All the latest from Twickenham
Life and Style
Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood
footballDanny Higginbotham: Tim Sherwood must play game of two halves to cause major upset
Caber is trained to help child victims of serious crimes testify
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor