Cech caught out as Villas-Boas deflects blame
Wigan Athletic 1 Chelsea 1
Petr Cech held his hand up about the late equalising goal that cost Chelsea two invaluable points, though had he done so in a more literal sense and held on to Hugo Rodallega's toe-poke instead of prodding it into the path of Jordi Gomez, his team would have enjoyed their long journey home on the back of a fourth successive win.
Instead, they can hardly afford to drop further points in Thursday's derby at Tottenham.
Andre Villas-Boas was less prepared to accept any blame for ordering the shutters to be pulled down after Daniel Sturridge's outstanding goal instead of continuing to attack. With Jose Bosingwa a liability at right back and Branislav Ivanovic unpredictable in the centre, it was risky to rely on keeping out a Wigan side who improved as the game wore on and took advantage of their opponents' timidity by throwing on two strikers as substitutes and reaping the reward.
Like his mentor and fellow countryman Jose Mourinho, the Portuguese sometimes gives the impression of thinking too much and refusing to leave well alone. He has never yet named an unchanged Chelsea team and in every game this season has used all three substitutions.
On Saturday, Oriol Romeu, who had done nothing wrong, was taken off at half-time in a tactical switch designed to introduce more creativity; almost as soon as Sturridge scored, a creative player (Juan Mata), was sacrificed for a defensive one (Jon Obi Mikel); and towards the end, just as Fernando Torres must have been thinking it was time he replaced the ineffectiveDidier Drogba, Sturridge himself, Chelsea's best player, was replaced by Florent Malouda.
"It was a fair result to the game because we didn't push really hard to get the result," Villas-Boas said. "Wigan had a lot of momentum, so if we went in search of the second goal we could have found ourselves exposed. That's why I think even though we scored early in the second half the best for us was to try and get through the game with a 1-0 and keep our defensive shape. We conceded within three minutes of the final whistle but normally we would have seen the game through."
In terms of the title challenge, he claimed that last season's champions, Manchester United, did not win an away game until February, neglecting to point out that by that time they were four points clear at the top by virtue of an impeccable home record. Chelsea have already been beaten twice at home and four times in all and these were points they could not afford to fritter away.
Cech's explanation of the equalising goal was: "When the shot came through, there were some players coming across the flight of the ball and one of the other players – I think it is was Ashley [Cole] – the ball just went through him somehow. Then there was a split second where I could not see the ball. I tried to catch it but it was too late and it was just deflected. I should have done better but in a way when you do not see the ball it is hard."
That enabled Wigan to begin a daunting run of games with a deserved point. Liverpool (on Wednesday), Manchester United and Manchester City all await before mid-January, as well as a visit to Stoke City, where victory on the final day of last season maintained their Premier League status against the odds.
Preserving it this time after losing eight games in a row recently, would be an even more remarkable achievement, but Roberto Martinez has kept players and supporters believing.
Scorers: Wigan Athletic Gomez 88. Chelsea Sturridge 59.
Substitutes: Wigan Athletic Rodallega 7(Jones, 72), Di Santo 7 (Sammon, 73). Chelsea Kalou 6 (Romeu, h-t), Mikel 5 (Mata, 66), Malouda (Sturridge, 80).
Man of the match Sturridge. Match rating 7/10. Possession: Wigan Athletic 48% Chelsea 52%.
Attempts on target: Wigan Athletic 7 Chelsea 5.
Referee M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
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