Aston Villa 1 Chelsea 1: Moore finds belief to rein in misfiring champions

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The Independent Online

Chelsea's midwinter blip continues. Two defeats in 62 Premiership fixtures hardly constitutes a crisis, but Luke Moore's 77th-minute reply to Arjen Robben's first-half goal ensured a third successive draw for a team accustomed to victory as well as justice for Aston Villa.

Moore, who came on as a substitute only three minutes earlier, bundled the ball home after a fine run and cross by Mark Delaney. His opportunism leaves Chelsea without a win at Villa Park since 1999, though a 15-point lead may compensate for a below-par display.

Back in September, Villa were the first side to score against the champions. They paid for their audacity, losing 2-1, but after 13 minutes of ineffectual sparring last night they had a gilt-edged opportunity to repeat the feat.

The Chelsea keeper Petr Cech, who earlier in the day had agreed to extend his contract until 2010, swatted unconvincingly at James Milner's inswinging cross. The ball dropped to Gareth Barry - on the midfielder's favoured left foot - but from eight yards he ballooned it over the bar.

The midfielder's wastefulness was put into sharp relief as Chelsea seized the lead on the counter-attack. William Gallas made tracks along the left before crossing towards the near post, where Robben and Joe Cole converged. As the Villa defenders fatally stood off, the Dutchman lashed the ball into the roof of the net from six yards to bring up his club's half-century of League goals for the season.

Chelsea's greater fluidity ought to have seen them collect a second goal midway through the half. Robben surged through in the inside-left channel, but with only Thomas Sorensen to beat he poked his shot wide with the left foot when the situation cried out for him to use the right. Cole, who had made a supporting run, made plain his displeasure.

The fragility of the single-goal advantage was underlined twice in swift succession. A previously subdued crowd appealed noisily, but in vain, for a penalty as Barry's flick struck John Terry on the hand. They were still seething as Milner delivered to the diminutive Kevin Phillips, whose sharp downward header Cech did well to scramble behind.

Milner's supply line from the right continued to be the chief source of danger to Chelsea. Another inviting cross in the opening minute of the second half reached Cech without a Villa player attacking the ball, but as happened in the build-up to Robben's goal, the speed with which the visitors retaliated was an indication of Jose Mourinho's game plan.

The contest deteriorated into scrappiness after the break, with frequent stoppages for fouls. Chelsea appeared to harbour no great ambition to increase their lead, while Villa, for all the foraging of Steven Davis and Gavin McCann, seemed to lack the necessary belief.

The sight of Mourinho leaving his seat to pace the technical area may have been a measure of his dissatisfaction, at least with the attacking side of his side's game. Robben, for one, looked instantly galvanised, embarking on a mazy dribble, which included two sumptuous step-overs, only for his neat lay-off to Eidur Gudjohnsen to result in a shot that thudded into a Villa defender.

Villa, perhaps sensing that Chelsea were going through the motions, began to exert pressure as the game entered its final quarter. A free-kick from Barry landed around the six-yard box, where Phillips met it with a crisp shot. Cech saved with his trademark brilliance, but he was powerless to deny Moore.

Aston Villa (4-4-1-1): Sorensen; Hughes, Delaney, Mellberg, Samuel; Milner, Davis, McCann, Barry; Phillips (Moore, 74); Baros (J Angel, 74). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Hendrie, Ridgewell.

Chelsea (4-4-1-1): Cech; Johnson, Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Gallas; Gudjohnsen (Huth, 85), Makelele, Lampard, Robben; J Cole (D Duff, 69); Crespo (Maniche, 74). Substitutes not used: Pidgeley (gk), Del Horno.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

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